Good morning, and we’re joined here today by Senator Charles Schumer and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and our key City commissioners. And I wanted to once again thank Linda Calise for her signing.
Let me begin today by updating everyone on the current weather conditions and what we can expect from Hurricane Sandy over the next two days. We continue to remain in touch with Governor Cuomo and State officials in coordinating our response to this storm. I also am announcing right now that we have ordered city public schools to remain closed tomorrow. There’s no chance that mass transit will be back in time to serve people, and always worried about cleanup even though the storm should abate dramatically as we get into Tuesday.
The current track provided by the National Hurricane Center shows Sandy making landfall just south of Atlantic City this evening. That keeps New York City well within the danger zone of this storm, and it’s why, as of now, we are under a coastal flood warning from now through 3 pm on Tuesday and high-wind warning through 6 pm tomorrow.
This is a massive storm; hurricane-force winds extend some 175 miles in every direction of the center. The storm may strengthen as it meets the cold front approaching from the northwest, and that’s when it changes from a tropical storm to a nor’easter, which has very big implications for those areas to the west of us and to the north of us.
As we’ve emphasized all along, the greatest danger posed by Sandy is the coastal storm surge it will produce. We’ve already had as much flooding, for example, along the FDR which is fundamentally closed at the moment, as we did in Hurricane Irene.
Now when we close a road, we close it when the water comes up, and if the water recedes, for example as you go from a high-tide to a low-tide period, we would reopen that. But at any moment any of these roads, if it becomes unsafe we close it, and we have lots of people watching.
The flooding that could occur later today is why we ordered our evacuation from Zone A areas yesterday. Last night there was a high-tide, tonight there’s a much bigger one, tomorrow another one
Water levels along our coast and in our waterways have begun rising and are expected to remain at higher-than-normal levels for the next 24 hours. The surge will be roughly at 8 o’clock tonight, 8:15, plus or minus a couple of hours. But remember, if you are in the South Bronx, the surge that you’re getting is surge that enters Long Island Sound from out around Montauk, and it takes about four hours to get down here. So the surge that you would experience there is much later than the surge that you’d experience if the water is coming up the East River and the Hudson River.
There has already been some flooding already in the Battery, as well as the FDR and some of the Rockaways. We expect surge levels of 6 to 11 feet. A surge of 9 to 10 feet is possible along Coney Island and the Rockaways. And a surge of 11 to 12 feet may occur at the Battery Monday evening. Maximum surge impact in these areas expected to be at some period plus or minus two hours around 8:15, so say 6 to 10:30. The peak surge will hit areas along Long Island Sound between 10 and 2 am, as I said four hours later.
Now, if you live on a coastline you have to add to that breaking waves, waves of 15 to 20 feet along the ocean facing shoreline will result is severe beach erosion, but also it drives some water right over the roads and inland more.
Because of the heavy rains that we do expect, which will come in later tonight, after- first we’ll see higher winds, then we’ll see the surge, then we’ll see more rain. Tomorrow morning we expect to be very wet.
A high wind warning is now in effect. The heaviest winds will occur this afternoon, this evening. Sustained winds of 40 to 55 miles an hour with gusts of 70 to 80 are what’s forecast at the moment.
Motorists should exercise extreme caution. We will monitor conditions on the bridges. Governor Cuomo has announced that at 2 pm today, the Hugh Carey Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and Holland Tunnel will be closed to traffic.
The Bronx River Parkway and the westbound lanes of the Goethals Bridge have been closed. And more bridge and tunnel closings throughout the city are very possible.
Yesterday, I ordered an evacuation of residents and businesses in the areas designated as Zone A in our Coastal Flood Plan. So let me reiterate what I said yesterday just for everybody’s safety, and it’s also for the safety of the city’s first responders who might have to rescue people who remain in Zone A, and whose own lives could be put at risk because of that.
If you are still in Zone A and can find a way to leave, leave immediately. Conditions are deteriorating very rapidly, and the window for you getting out safely is closing.
As the winds start building this afternoon, it gets more and more dangerous to go outside. And so you’re sort of caught between a rock and a hard place. You should have left, but it’s also getting to be too late to leave. If you really experience an emergency, 911. We will send our first responders in, although we’d love very much not to have to put their lives at risk, and you can control that by getting out now.
You can look outside and say, ‘Oh, this is not bad.’ That’s correct, but it is going to be. Forecasts are reasonably accurate this close to when we’re predicting something and it’s going to be very high winds, going to be a lot of road closures. You know mass transit’s not working, and driving when you have big gusts like that is dangerous.
Overnight, City EMS crews transported 13 homebound elderly from Zone A residences. Plans were also put in effect to transport residents of City homeless shelters in Zone A. And an increased effort is being made to reach homeless on the streets with a focus on those in Zone A. Manhattan Veterans Affairs Hospital and New York Downtown Hospital have been fully evacuated, incidentally.
Some 45,000 of the 375,000 New Yorkers who live in Zone A are residents of city public housing developments. We continue to make enormous efforts to reach them with the message that they need to leave for their own safety. If you are in one of these 26 affected developments, the City is running buses for the next hour or so but that’s going to stop because it just becomes too dangerous to run the buses.
If you are still in a public housing development, you should go downstairs. The buses are in the same locations that they were yesterday.
“We placed flyers in all 26 of the affected developments starting last Friday. We had meetings with residents last Saturday. We started knocking on doors of residents in the affected developments Friday and Saturday. That continued yesterday. We have knocked on every door in the affected developments. We made phone calls to apartments in every development. If we couldn’t reach people, we put flyers under their doors.
Sunday, police officers were at the developments telling people through loudspeakers to evacuate. We provided school buses to transport people to shelters, and that is still going on. We’re especially going to residents we know are on respirators, or other life-saving equipment dependent on electricity, and telling them to leave and helping them do so.
“I did want to commend the elected officials who worked with NYCHA this weekend in going door-to-door with the message to evacuate, particularly to John Rhea and all this staff at NYCHA. I don’t think anybody could have done more to give people the notice and advice how to protect themselves.
We’ve stressed all along that for people living in Zone A, the first option should be finding a safe place to stay with relatives or friends. However, we have also opened 76 emergency shelters in City public schools for those who did not have that option. They are still accepting people. All of these shelters have at least one entrance usable for wheelchairs.
“If you require further information, you can call 311 or visit the OEM website through nyc.gov, or the website of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, which will provide information about accessibility.
We have done everything I think that we can to give you the information that you need. The shelters are fully stocked. We’ve got volunteers, a lot of teachers who have been there overnight. I visited one yesterday, they have shelter. They have cots, they have blankets, they have food, they have sanitary facilities, and they can even take your pets.
“So far we’ve had about 3,000 people come into the shelters and if the press wants to know the number of pets, I think it was in the low 70s – 73 pets. But don’t leave your pet at home because you don’t know when you can get back. So take your pet with you.
For the past several days, we’ve been stressing what precautionary steps New Yorkers should take. Our message to all New Yorkers is pretty much the same today: the storm is here, and will be here the rest of today and well into tomorrow. Now you should concentrate on keeping yourselves and your families safe.
To the extent possible, remain in your homes while this storm is in progress. If you live in buildings served by elevators, avoid using them during the storm. There’s always the possibility of power outages, and you might get caught between floors.
Stay away from picture windows or lobbies where glass could be shattered by wind-borne objects. Most of the glass is able to stand up to the gusts, but if something is blown into them then they could easily shatter and you could be hit with the glass or the object that caused the accident in the beginning.
We have worked very hard to make sure all cranes and construction sites are battered down, and we’ve had so far no indication of any debris blowing off a construction site. But as the winds get worse, our precautions get tested more, and you never know. There’s no reason to jeopardize your lives. It’s just dangerous to be out on the streets when the wind is this high. If you have to be, you can do it, but take precautions. You just- stay away from windows when you’re inside, outside keep your eyes and ears open. Get your business done and get back insider as quickly as you can. And remember that on the high floors of high-rise buildings, the wind is much stronger, so the further up you live, the more reason you should close your drapes and just stay away from windows.
With regard to City employees: As I have said, City government is open for business today. That’s what we’re here to do, to serve New Yorkers. When others need help, we’ve got to be there. To all City workers with operational duties related to Hurricane Sandy: You know what your assignments are and you should be executing them and thank you for your dedication. That’s why you go to work for New York City, to help others. We’ve asked a number of City school teachers to volunteer at the evacuation centers.
However, conditions are dangerous and in light of the predicted impact of the storm to people’s ability to get home tonight, I have instructed commissioners that they are to use their judgment to determine if employees not involved in response or shelter operations and have gotten done the stuff that had to get done today, then there’s no reason why you can’t- Commissioners can make their own decisions, but they could send them- let them leave work early to get home.
But let me be clear: City government is open and these are the times when New Yorkers need us the most. We do want to have everyone to safe and not inconvenience anybody more than necessary. But we understand why we’re here.
To give you some examples of what City workers are doing today: Sanitation workers have already picked up thousands of tons of refuse this morning. They will be on 12-hour shifts tomorrow to pick up refuse where possible and also to help removing debris created by the storms.
Park employees are handling calls about, for example, hanging limbs and downed trees.
Employees with the Department of Environmental Protection are cleaning catch basins and staffing wastewater treatment plants, dealing with instances of highway flooding, and repairing water main breaks.
The City Human Resources Administration has opened all its facilities located outside Zone A.
All public hospital emergency rooms are open and will remain open throughout the storm.
But also remember some things have been sensibly closed. City school-based afterschool programs are closed. Senior centers are closed. Public libraries are closed.
All City parks have been closed since 5 pm and will remain closed until further notice. For your safety, now that we are experiencing dangerous winds, please stay out of the parks.
Broadway is closed tonight. If you wanted to go out, it’s probably- restaurants want the business and movie theaters and everybody else, but just remember it is dangerous out there and it may be a good time to just stay hunkered in to your home and have a sandwich out of the fridge and sit back and watch television.
We have an effective plan in place we think, and if we follow it and all exercise common sense we’re going to get through this storm just fine.
So now let me say number thank you to Chuck Schumer for the help that the Federal government gives us. I was on a conference call with the President yesterday, and he had a bunch of Governors and Mayors, offering any help that he could give us. Craig Fugate from FEMA the day before. And the Governor’s Office and my office have talked today. I’ve talked to the Governor a number of times during this. Everybody’s helping everybody and working together, and that’s the way it should be.
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