Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to prepare for a “large, unpredictable” storm that could rock the city – but stopped short of calling for a full or partial evacuation from low-lying areas.
“If it were to hit land in Baltimore or in Nantucket, New York would just have some heavy rains and a little bit of flooding and a lot of rain," he said. "If it were to hit closer to home, the flooding and rains will get much more problematic.”
The mayor on Friday advised New Yorkers to find out whether they live in an evacuation zone in the event one is called and to gather a so-called “go bag” that includes a flash light, first aid kit, medications and identification among other things.
The mayor called for a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas during Hurricane Irene in 2011.
“As of now we’re not going to require mandatory evacuation of these areas,” he said, “but if that changes we will make an announcement giving further details and you should know whether you live in those areas.”
Low-lying areas include Coney Island, Red Hook, and other areas around the East River in Brooklyn, the Rockaways, Broad Channel, the Staten Island coast line, City Island, Battery Park City, stretches of the West Side waterfront, the Lower East Side and the East Village.
About 370,000 people live in these evacuation zones.
In preparation for the coming storm, Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to avoid the city's parks starting Sunday because of an increased danger of falling tree limbs in high winds. He added workers had begun clearing storm drains in anticipation of Sandy all week.
“Flooding can be worse when catch basins are clogged by garbage and leaves,” Bloomberg said. The Department of Environmental Protection has been cleaning them this week, “but New Yorkers can help and do that part by sweeping and cleaning their driveways in front of their home or businesses free of leaves, paper and debris,” he said.
New York City Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri ordered work at construction sites in the city suspended as of 5 p.m. Saturday.
The MTA’s hurricane plan calls for an “orderly shutdown” of service if winds reach speeds of 39 mph. The MTA has cancelled its planned subway service changes, except on the No. 7 and J trains, which will only be affected on Saturday.
“Our first priority is always safety, and the MTA is taking no chances with the safety of our customers, our employees and our equipment,” MTA chief Joe Lhota said in a statement Friday.
Lhota said he’s “preparing for the worst.”
City bridges may be shutdown if winds are sustained at more than 60 mph.
The city is expected to make an updated announcement on the status of the storm and the city's plan by Saturday night. Still, Bloomberg said that everyone should plan to go to school and go to work on Monday.
Meteorologists expect rain to begin Sunday in the tri-state area and the storm to strengthen on Monday and Tuesday. Current projections show Sandy making landfall in Delaware.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, and put into effect the state's emergency crews. The situation room in New York City has also been activated. "With unpredictable weather conditions, we are taking the greatest precautions – especially after our experience from last year’s storms," he said.
Cuomo has also asked President Obama for a pre-landfall disaster declaration. This would allow for State access to funds and FEMA resources to prepare.
Cuomo said he learned a lot from Irene. “Its given me a healthy respect for mother nature. We're doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said Friday.
The storm could bring winds up to 80 miles per hour in our region, according to Adam Sobel, a professor of Climate and Atmospheric Science at Columbia University.
Speaking on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show Friday, he said he expects areas north of the city will be hit the worst: "We are going to have, all indications are, a pretty brutal Nor'easter."
Cuomo also urged people to prepare storm kits. They include non-perishable food, water, cash, filled prescriptions, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, first aid kit, flashlights and extra batteries. Citymeals-on-Wheels suggests New Yorkers pick up extra supplies for the elderly and is preparing packages for Brooklyn and Queens residents who are homebound.
Emergency Centers, provisions and a dose of dark humor is how residents of the Catskills are dealing with news of an expected hurricane. Lissa Harris, an editor at the Catskills website Watershed Post said residents in the region are still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Irene and are have a visceral reaction to news of heavy rainfall and high waters.
“When you lose their house or if you've lost your house or if you've seen your town's main street be devastated by flooding, it's kind of unimaginable to think we might be in for some of that again,” she said.
In New Jersey, voluntary evacuation orders have been issued for Cape May's barrier islands.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said he met with representatives of the electric, cable and communications utilities to discuss their preparations, and that electricity line crews were making their way to the state. After Hurricane Irene, residents in hard hit parts of the state lost power for days.
With reporting by Associated Press