Hurricane Irene: Transit Shutdown, Bloomberg Orders Mandatory Evacuations

Updated: August 27, 2011 at 11:00 PM

City of Long Beach employees remove trash bins from the boardwalk in preparation for Hurricane Irene, Friday, Aug. 26, 2011 in Long Beach, N.Y. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

** Click here for MetroFocus coverage of Hurricane Sandy. **

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg advised city residents to stay inside for the duration of the storm on Saturday night.

“The time for evacuation is over. Stay indoors,” the mayor said.

On Friday, the city issued a mandatory evacuation order for all New Yorkers in low-lying coastal areas, including parts of Brooklyn and Queens and Battery Park City and the Financial District in Manhattan. This was the first time the city has ever ordered a mandatory evacuation.

All New York City Housing Authority facilities in those areas were being evacuated Saturday as the buildings shut down their elevators and boilers.

The eye of the storm is expected to hit Long Island. Click here to see where you are in relation to the storm.

A Con Edison representative said at a press conference Saturday that the company would consider cutting the power in low-lying areas if the storm surge resulted in severe flooding.

A tornado watch was also issued to New York City residents.

But the mayor also said that New York was in good shape for the hurricane: “Our city is safe, we will get through this, we are New Yorkers.”

Mass transit across the New York City region began to shut down at noon on Saturday. The closures cover all of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s services, which include subways, buses and the LIRR and Metro-North railroads. The Staten Island ferry will continue to run on a limited schedule until the winds get too strong, the mayor said.

Officials were not confident the transit system would be up and running in time for Monday’s morning commute.

New Jersey commuter trains will also be shutdown. Several bridges will also be closed if winds reach 60 mph for more than a short period of time. Those bridges include the George Washington Bridge, the Robert F. Kennedy Triboro Bridge, the Throgs Neck Bridge and the Whitestone Bridge.

The mayor announced several other service updates during his press conference Friday:

  • Taxis will offer reduced fares and group rides; livery cabs will be permitted to make street pick-ups on Saturday afternoon.
  • All construction will be suspended in the five boroughs from 2 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Monday.
  • Emergency shelters will be open as of 4 p.m. on Friday.
  • The city’s beaches are closed for the weekend and residents were advised not to go into parks.
  • NYU and Columbia University have postponed their freshman move-in day, previously scheduled for Sunday.

Broadway shows were canceled both Saturday and Sunday. The city’s public library systems were also closed.

President Barack Obama urged residents to follow instructions from state and local officials. “If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don’t wait. Don’t delay,” he said on Friday.

On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency and issued a mandatory evacuation of the Jersey Shore. Both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy quickly followed suit with their own declarations of emergencies.

Click here for hurricane preparedness information if you live in Long Island.

There is a very real possibility that Hurricane Irene, currently pounding the Bahamas, could wreak havoc the likes of which haven’t been seen in New York since the hurricane of 1938 left 50 dead in Suffolk and Nassau Counties, reported the New York Times. According to the Times, major hurricane events tend to happen in New York about once every 70 years. Math: It’s been 73 years since the Long island Express, as the ’38 hurricane was known.

Emergency preparedness systems are considerably more sophisticated than they were then, but the International Business Times points out major contemporary problems specific to a rare New York City hurricane:

  1. The biggest problem New York would experience from a major hurricane is a storm surge, when massive amounts of water are pushed onto shore by high winds. Storm surges can cause flash flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, as they did during the Long Island Express. In a city, particularly a city built on an island with tall buildings, water has no place to go and can rise up to 30 feet. Low lying areas on Long Island, Battery Park City and areas around Jamaica Bay, like JFK Airport and LaGuardia Airport, are at risk.
  2. In addition to downed power lines and flying debris, hurricane winds could break office windows, creating a shower of broken glass onto city streets.
  3. The area the hurricane would most likely affect includes the Financial District. The 1938 hurricane flooded most of lower Manhattan below Canal Street, but at the time the area was not as built up as it is today. If that were to happen today, the economic impact would be virtually unfathomable.
  4. Another huge problem with a catastrophic hurricane in New York is the unique difficulty of evacuating the city, because of the immense population density and limited bridges and tunnels out of the city. Violent waves crashing against the shore would render evacuation via boat or surfboard impossible.


The aftermath of the 1938 Long Island Express hurricane in the Hamptons. The center of the photo shows a demolished rowboat in someone's yard. AP photo.

The city has created a map demonstrating where the hurricane evacuation zones, escape routes, and shelters are. Find out how vulnerable your home is and where you can go for safety by clicking here.

The city also has a free downloadable brochure explaining what to do to prepare yourself, and how to stay safe if an emergency is declared.

  • Bring loose objects like chairs and garbage inside.
  • Shutter windows and doors.
  • Prepare a kit to take to an evacuation center, with a sleeping bag and medical supplies.
  • Know where your nearest evacuation center is.

In a story about “hurricane complacency,” a term describing the direct relationship between the time since a major hurricane event happened and people’s indifference toward the danger of a hurricane, the Weather Channel pointed out that it’s been three years since the United States soil has been hit by a hurricane. The last time the country went three years without hurricane landfall was in the 1860s. “Clearly, we’re living on borrowed time,” the station reported.

In another story, the Weather Channel explained that part of the reason New York infrequently experiences the brunt of hurricanes slugging their way up the East Coast is due to the fact that Cape Cod sticks out so far into the Atlantic that it weakens the storm before it approaches the cities of the North Atlantic.

The Weather Channel also created this interactive map which shows Irene’s most recent predicted trajectory.

Below is New York City’s hurricane evacuation map. Click to link to a larger PDF.

Hurricane evacuation map for New York City. Areas in orange are at the highest risk, yellow are second highest and green third highest. Image courtesy of


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