NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly 300,000 people were ordered Friday to evacuate flood-prone areas and subways, buses and trains prepared to shut down a day later as Hurricane Irene steamed toward New York, the most powerful storm to target the city in decades.
It was the first time the nation’s largest city was evacuated. And never before has the entire mass transit system been shuttered because of a storm. Despite the unknowns of how the city would react, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was confident people would get out of the storm’s way.
“Waiting until the last minute is not a smart thing to do,” Bloomberg said. “This is life-threatening.”
Irene is expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday, then roll along the East Coast, hitting near Manhattan on Sunday.
Residents in the Battery Park City complex on the southern end of Manhattan and Coney Island, famed for its boardwalk and amusement park, were told to be out by Saturday evening. The beachfront community of the Rockaways and other neighborhoods around the city were also under the evacuation order.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said they can’t run the transit system once sustained winds reach 39 mph, and they need eight hours to shut it down. Bridges could also be closed as the storm approaches, clogging traffic in an already congested city.
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“I would think that the vast bulk will comply,” Bloomberg said of the evacuation order. “Unfortunately, there’s a handful who will not comply until it’s too late. And at that point in time, you can really get stuck.”
Nearly 100 shelters were set to open as the city faced its first hurricane warning since 1985 when Hurricane Gloria hit Long Island as a Category 2 storm with winds gusts of up to 100 mph. Irene is expected to be a Category 1, with winds of at least 74 mph, when it hits New York.