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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Delivers Remarks on Hurricane Irene

Aired August 26, 2011 - 13:50   ET



MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY: -- staffed by city employees, some on a volunteer basis. As you know, we think New Yorkers have the greatest workforce of any city in the nation, and I just wanted to start out by thanking them and their colleagues across the city for stepping up now and giving their time and effort to help New Yorkers who need shelter from the coming storm.

The evacuation plan that we announced yesterday, I'm happy to say, is working smoothly. I'll discuss it in detail in a minute, and because Irene is now bearing down on us at a faster speed than it was yesterday, we are changing a few things.

We are, today, issuing a mandatory, repeat the word mandatory, evacuation order for all New Yorkers who live in the low-lying Zone A coastal areas in all five boroughs that are at greatest risk of damage relating Irene, and we're adding the rest of the Rockaways some of which are not Zone A, but Zone B.

Health Commissioner Tom Farley will be working with seniors' homes and nursing homes and the two hospitals that are in the Zone B part of the Rockaways to try to find alternative sites for their residents. People who live in private homes, we want to leave the Rockaways.

And this is due to the exposure to the ocean of the Rockaways and the potential that emergency services may not be provided to due to the closing of bridges. Bridges aren't going to fall down, but there is a point where the winds get so strong they close because cars and trucks could be blown off them.

And what we're concerned about in the Rockaways, unlike other parts of the city that may be in low-lying areas or slightly higher, if something were to happen and you need emergency services in the Rockaways, we're not sure that in the worse case, we'd be able to get those services to you.

So that is something that's different than yesterday. We're also are moving up the time that we want everybody out, and that is by 5:00 p.m. 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. Now, the low-lying coastal areas that will be endangered most by storm surge, include Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, the 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 small sections of the Bronx. And as I said before, we're also adding a full evacuation of all people living in private homes or apartments in the Rockaways.

In addition, you should know that MTA service including subways, buses and railroads will begin to shut down tomorrow at noon and Jay Walleder (ph) will describe that and other measures in a moment.

Depending on the effect of the storm, let me just caution you also in regards to the MTA that service may or may not be restored in time for rush hour Monday morning. So I would urge employees check with their employers regarding business openings on Monday.

Now, we've never done a mandatory evacuation before, and we wouldn't be doing it now if we didn't think this storm had the potential to be very serious. The best outcome could be in the storm veers off to the east and doesn't hit us or doesn't hit us hard. But we can't depend on Mother Nature being so kind. We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

And just because this is the first time we've had a mandatory evacuation in any part of the city, I just once again want to repeat, this is very serious. Do not be fooled by the sun outside. That is the calm before the storm. And you just can't wait until gale force winds and driving rains arrive, it will be too late then. You have to start your preparations to leave -- you have to start your preparations to leave right now.

Keep in mind, after noon tomorrow, you are not going to have the advantage of mass transit to help you do that. So if you were to leave today, that would be very helpful. And tomorrow if you call Access-A-Ride (ph), Jay Walleder will talk about it, but they just don't have the capacity to take large numbers of people on any one day in a short span of time in one day.

So, in spite of the good weather, if you want to be safe, now is the time to start moving.

We expect that most New Yorkers affected by the evacuation order will find places to stay with relatives or friends who live in safer areas. However, as I said at the beginning of this, evacuation centers and shelters for those who need it will be open by 4:00 p.m. this afternoon and they are staffed and equipped to accommodate the people that we expect. But if the capacity were to be much greater than we have planned for, we certainly have the capacity to expand very quickly.

We'll say more in a few minutes about how this system will work. A system that we put a lot of thought and effort into developing to avoid the problems that occurred during Hurricane Katrina. But let me first try to bring you up to date on the latest information on the strength and the path and where this hurricane is likely to arrive in our area.

The National Weather Service at moment -- and I keep reminding you, this could change any time -- the National Weather Service put the entire New York Metropolitan area under a hurricane watch, which means that sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or more are forecast for Saturday evening through Sunday.

At the moment, the strongest winds are expected to arrive early evening tomorrow and to continue into late afternoon on Sunday. The current forecast is that Irene will reach New York metropolitan area as a Category 1 storm. The ground speed of the storm has accelerated, gale force winds of 40 miles an hour are the beginning of the storm and they will grow significantly.

We don't know what they'll grow to, but the full brunt of the storm, if you're in its way, it's a lot more powerful than any of us. And certainly, the worst case -- the best case scenario is very high winds and a lot of rain and very, very high tides. So those are the things you'll see and we want to give you some ideas as to how to stay safe.

As I stressed yesterday, our first obligation is to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers in Zone A's low-lying coastal areas, and I just want to bring you up to date on what we did yesterday.

Hospital patients, nursing homes, homes for the aged and other New Yorkers who are in these homes, yesterday were directed to leave. And by 8:00 last night, the -- or 8:00 today these are -- that has been done. Everybody has been moved. There were no exceptions made by Tom Farley. And in all fairness, nobody even asked for exceptions.

In the rest of the area, Coney Island Hospital, both campuses of Staten Island University Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Manhattan, and NYU Medical Center on Manhattan's Upper East Side are evacuating their patient to other hospitals. And yesterday's executive order also covered eight nursing homes, one psychiatric facility and eight adult care centers. All of those, as I said, have been or in the process of evacuating.

Most facilities are completing this process themselves. A lot of these facilities have contracted with people to help them. But in some case, city ambulance crews have been called in to help and we're glad to provide that service.

Another vulnerable population we're concentrating on is the homeless. We have four homeless shelters for families and four shelters for single adults in zone A. The clients of these shelters will be relocated to our Bedford Atlantic Shelter in Brooklyn and the El Camino in Jamaica, Queens. We're also moving clients out of the intake center at 30th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan. At the same time outreach teams are stepping up activity to bring homeless clients, who are living on the streets, indoors.

We're also taking steps to help those who, because of age, illness or disability are homebound. Home care providers are activating their emergency plans on a case by case basis. We will authorize sleep-in services to help clients who have complex needs and no other support in their community. There are also 15 foster care, residential shelters, you should know, in zone A or administrations for Children Services is working with those agencies operating those programs to ensure that each facility has a safety plan in place for all children at those facilities.

Our other organizations are taking steps to keep their communities safe. For instance, many of our cities, universities, including Fordham, NYU, St. John's and Columbia, are postponing the move-in date for incoming freshmen from Sunday to Monday. So it's fun to move into college, it's an exciting time. But doing it in the middle of a hurricane probably would not be the best experience and ways to start your college education. I'm glad that they've seemed to move that.

For some people, their port in the storm will be an emergency city shelter. As I have said before we have developed the coastal storm plan back in 2006 to prevent the kinds of problems we saw during Katrina, when some centers and shelters were overloaded and others were strikingly empty. We've put a lot of effort into designing a more efficient system so when we need it, such as now, all we have to do is implement a plan. Not develop it from scratch. That's why we worked so hard when the weather is good to make sure when something goes wrong, we're ready.

The shelters and centers are organized on what we call a solar system model. Five to ten shelters are organized around each evacuation center with an initial intake process where the initial process would take place. The system is designed for efficiency and supplying and supporting the shelters and to eliminate any bottlenecks that may develop and to ensure that each location has sufficient quantities of food, water, blankets and other essential supplies.

The shelters and centers will be staffed by city employees from non-first responder agencies. The first responders have plenty of other things to do. Employees who have been designated by their agencies to staff emergency shelters should be reporting to their assignment locations today. These sites will be staffed by school safety agent and supplied with food from the Department of Education's office of school foods and security will, of course, be provided by the NYPD., as you know, just got so overload unfortunately the system crashed a few times. It's currently experienced three times its average volume of traffic, which has made access to the site problematic for some. Yesterday, had 4.3 million hits --


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg under scoring a hurricane watch is in effect impacting the entire New York area. He's giving this reminder for New Yorkers that you need to have a plan, evacuate the lowest-lying areas.

And he says, if you need public transportation, you have to take advantage of that before noon tomorrow, Saturday. That's when that will be shutting down. Right now, it is just after 2:00 Eastern Time.