Hurricane Irene preparations prompt New York City to begin evacuations of low-lying areas


Evacuations from flood-risk areas across New York were in full swing Friday as the city braced itself for the impact of menacing Hurricane Irene.

Hundreds of hospital patients and nursing home residents in low-lying areas were transferred to higher ground amid concerns the imminent storm could cause mass power outages, flooding and damage to property.

After meeting with his cabinet Friday, Gov. Cuomo announced the MTA's city subways and buses, along with Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Rail Road and Access-a-Ride, will begin a system-wide shutdown beginning at noon on Saturday.

Hardware stores reported a boom in sales as people stocked up on sandbags, flashlights, plywood and batteries.

Meteorologists predicted Hurricane Irene would hit the Carolinas Saturday as a strong Category 2 hurricane and begin barreling up the East Coast to take aim at New York on Sunday.

As the city stepped up its preparations, the website experienced a meltdown due to the high number of people trying to access information online.


President Obama urged everyone in affected areas to heed advice from local officials.

"Don't wait. Don't delay. We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst," the President said.

"All of us have to take this storm seriously."

Work at New York City construction sites was ordered suspended from 2 p.m. Saturday and residents were urged to secure lawn furniture and hanging plants for fear they could become projectiles in hurricane-force winds.

Transit officials said buses, subways and the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road lines could be halted as early as Friday afternoon if Hurricane Irene showed no sign of changing track and Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned he may order a mandatory evacuation of low-lying "Zone A" areas, including Coney Island, the Rockaways and Battery Park City.

New York's Emergency Management Office said residents should stockpile supplies and be prepared to not receive any outside help for 24 to 72 hours.

The USTA cancelled Arthur Ashe Kids' Day at the U.S. Open Saturday, and the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library branches will close Sunday.

The Department of Corrections said inmate visits may also be cancelled.

At Coney Island Hospital, one of five low-lying medical facilities which Bloomberg ordered to be vacated, all out-patient and in-patient operations were stopped and the ER ceased Thursday.

Officials said 241 patients were being transferred by 8 p.m. Friday and only a skeletal maintenance crew would remain behind in case the first floor generators were needed.

"The issue here is that we are facing a storm of somewhat historic proportions," said Alan Aviles, president and CEO of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

At the Palm Beach Waterfront Senior Living Residence in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, staff were working all morning to relocate up to 80 tenants to sister facilities.

Meanwhile, airlines began cancelling Saturday flights to the southeast.

JetBlue Airways called off hundreds of weekend flights in New England and New York, the first U.S. carrier to shut down service in the Northeast in anticipation of the hurricane.

Area airports were stocking up on blankets, pillows, diapers and hundreds of cases of bottled water for stranded passengers.

Despite the gloomy forecasts and safety warnings, there were still a few New Yorkers who welcomed the impending hurricane.

"We sold out of over 400 flashlights in about four minutes," said Kendall Doyle, who works at Doody Home Centers hardware store in Sheepshead Bay.

"They've been here non-stop. There has never been a panic like this. It's a big boost."

The first drops of rain started to land along the Carolina coast Friday morning, and experts warned up to 65 million people along the East Coast could be affected by the onslaught of mother nature.

The rains were light initially, 9-foot waves and strong swells were a foreboding sign of things to come.

A hurricane warning area was extended to cover huge swaths of the East Coast from North Carolina to Sandy Hook, N.J., just south of the city.

A hurricane watch was also in effect, stretching all the way north to Long Island, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, Mass.

With News Wire Services