For the first time ever, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents of low-lying and coastal areas, in fear of the worst that Hurricane Irene's upcoming wrath can bring to the city that never stops nor sleeps.
The unprecedented evacuation order issued Friday covers 250,000 residents of NYC coastal areas in Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Far Rockaway and Broad Channel in Queens, South Beach, Midland Beach, and other low-lying areas on Staten Island, Battery Park City in Manhattan, and some small sections of the Bronx, according to Bloomberg in a statement issued at 1:45 p.m. Friday.
We are also adding a full evacuation of all people living in private homes are apartments in the Rockaways, he added.
You only have to look at the weather maps to understand how big this storm is and how unique it is, said Bloomberg at a news conference Friday, and it's heading basically for us.
With the New York Cit Hurricane Evacuation Zones map, you can see whether you live in an evacuation zone, and find shelter or evacuation center.
We're also moving up the time that we want everybody out, and that is by 5:00 PM tomorrow, Saturday. In a storm with wind and very high tides, there are risks that endanger public safety. I can't stress it enough. Please, nature is a force more powerful than any of us, and it really is better to be safe than sorry, said Bloomberg.
Later Saturday night and Sunday will see the worst conditions for the NYC area, with hurricane conditions likely including destructive wind, heavy flooding rain, and storm surge with coastal flooding.
If winds reach 60 miles per hour for a while, bridges including the George Washington Bridge, the Robert F. Kennedy Triboro Bridge, the Throgs Neck Bridge and the Whitestone Bridge will be closed, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Officials also elected to shut down New York City's sprawling transit system, which encompasses both the subway and an array of commuter rail lines that serve Long Island, Westchester County and Connecticut, starting on Saturday until Monday.
The entire subway system has only experienced an entire shutdown twice in the past - Sept. 11, 2001 and a strike in 2005.
According to Bloomberg, 91 evacuation centers and shelters would be open by 4 p.m. Friday for those who are unable to stay home.
We are communicating with our federal and local partners to track the storm and to plan a coordinated response, and we will deploy resources as needed to the areas expected to be hit the hardest, Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. I urge New Yorkers to personally prepare for hurricane conditions and to cooperate with emergency officials if needed.
Bloomberg also ordered a halt to construction work until Monday morning and canceled permits for events in the city on Sunday and in at-risk areas on Saturday.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said Friday southbound lanes of the Garden State Parkway South of Exit 98 will be closed at 8 p.m. Friday night. New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and virtually all of the east coast states in Irene's forecast path between now and early Monday are under states of emergency as officials prepare to mitigate damage, focusing on loss of lives.
The threat level of Hurricane Irene is extreme from along the East Coast from eastern North Carolina to southern New England, according to The Weather Channel.
As of 2 p.m. ET Friday, the center of Irene was located 300 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C. Rain from the storms outer bands is already falling near the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts.
The Category 2 storm is packing maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour, moving north at 14 miles per hour. Already, forecasters and officials are suggesting Hurricane Irene could be the storm of a lifetime, with potential to inflict a wide path of damage up the East Coast.