New York City today prepares to go into an unprecedented lockdown as Hurricane Irene roars its way northwards up the East Coast.
Although Irene’s strength waned last night and was downgraded to a category 1 hurricane, experts warned that it could still wreak havoc when it hits New York because of storm surges pushing seawater ashore and heavy rainfall causing flooding. Public transport in the city will be completely shut down at midday, with the subway, buses and MTA trains all ceasing operations. The five main airports in New York will also be closed to arriving passenger flights from noon affecting hundreds of thousands of peoples’ journeys. NFL officials have also been forced to reschedule the popular New York Giants’ pre-season game against the Jets for Monday.
More than 2 million people across the Eastern Seaboard have been told to move to safer places,with hurricane warnings from North Carolina in the South all the way to Massachusetts in the North. It is the first hurricane warning issued for New York City in more than two decades.
President Barack Obama addressed the nation yesterday, urging Americans to ‘take the storm seriously’ and warning it is set to be ‘a historic hurricane’.
‘You need to listen to your state and local officials,’ he said. ‘If you’re in the way of this hurricane you should be preparing now. If you’re instructed to evacuate please do so.’
In an unprecedented decision, nearly 300,000 people who live in flood-prone areas of New York City were ordered to evacuate Friday as Hurricane Irene sets its sights on the nation’s largest city. New Yorkers, many of them without cars, don’t have much time to get out of the way before the city shutters its subways, buses and trains on Saturday.
At a press conference Friday, Mayor Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation for all 270,000 residents living in low-lying Zone A areas, and the Far Rockaways. “Nature is a force more powerful than any of us,” the Mayor said, “and it really is better to be safe than sorry.”
The areas include the Battery Park City complex on the southern end of Manhattan; Coney Island, famed for its boardwalk and amusement park; the beachfront community of the Rockaways and other neighborhoods around the city. “We’ve never done a mandatory evacuation before,” the Mayor continued, “and we wouldn’t do it now if we didn’t think the storm had the potential to be very serious.”
While the evacuation was a first for New Yorkers, “I would think that the vast bulk will comply,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference. “Unfortunately, there’s a handful who will not comply until it’s too late. And at that point in time, you can really get stuck.”
“Waiting until the last minute is not a smart thing to do,” he added. “This is life-threatening.”