Mayor Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation of all low-lying areas in Brooklyn as Hurricane Irene approached — a first-of-its-kind executive decision that may require cops to fan out throughout Coney Island, Red Hook and other borough netherlands in an effort to save the more than 150,000 residents that are believed to be in harm’s way.
The evacuation order could not have happened at a worse time — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced on Friday that all subway and bus service would cease at noon on Saturday. Meanwhile, many borough stalwarts vowed not to leave their homes.
“I’ve been here since I was 5-years-old, so they’re not going to evacuate me,” said a defiant 61-year-old William O’Brien outside of a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Surf Avenue in Coney Island on Friday afternoon. “I can swim, so I’m sticking it out.”
He may not be allowed to, as Bloomberg said his evacuation order was mandatory as Irene, which decimated the Bahamas and is moving up the eastern seaboard, is expected to hit the city on Sunday with torrential rains and 75 mile-per-hour winds, what fans of storm jargon call a “Category 1” storm.
“We have never done a mandatory evacuation before — and we wouldn’t be doing this now if we didn’t think the storm had the potential to be very serious,” Bloomberg said. “The best outcome would be if 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.”
Bloomberg’s order means that everyone — and we mean everyone — who lives in flood-prone areas must leave. In Brooklyn, those areas include all of Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Seagate, Manhattan Beach, plus a swath of Sheepshead Bay streets bordered by West Street, Bedford Avenue, Emmons Avenue and Avenue X, as well as most of Red Hook and streets around the Gowanus Canal.
Homes along the Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Columbia Street and DUMBO waterfronts will also be evacuated.
The mayor recommended that residents bed down with friends and relatives in non-flood zones, but those who have no place to go can go to a number of borough public schools that will be drummed into service as emergency shelters. The list of shelters can be found here.
Other unprecedented measures taken Friday include:
• The MTA will shut down all train and bus lines beginning at noon on Saturday. Until then, the agency will be running extra buses in low-lying areas to move residents out of the danger zone.
• The NYPD and other city agencies that have cars equipped with loudspeakers will be patrolling low lying areas for the next 24 hours, telling residents that they have to leave.
• Evacuations at hospitals and nursing homes in the low-lying areas began on Friday morning.
Bloomberg gave everyone until 5 pm on Saturday to evacuate the flood zones. But, since the MTA will be shutting down all buses and trains beginning at noon, everyone should plan ahead, he said.
“You have to start your preparations to leave right now,” Bloomberg explained. Other city officials openly fretted that Friday’s sunny conditions and balmy temperatures would lure residents into a false sense of security — until it’s too late.
By late Friday, city officials were holding meetings to determine just how the evacuation should be handled. It looks like door-to-door visits by police will be an inevitability.
“We’ve never done this before so we’re still talking about the legality of the whole thing,” one police source said. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to force people out of their homes, but we will have to serve them with some kind of notice that they are staying at their own peril.”
But very few were heading to shelters by Friday afternoon. Instead, more people were bulking up on provisions as they prepare to weather the storm at home.
Over in Boerum Hill, residents were flocking to Bruno’s Hardware on Court Street at Schermerhorn Street, picking up everything from flashlights to sandbags and tarps to paper towels. One shopper bought a ball of yarn so he could “tie things down.”
“People have been coming here nonstop,” assistant manager Wilfred Rankin explained. “The only flashlights we have left are the most expensive ones and people are still buying them.”
Others said they never budgeted for an evacuation.
“Where am I going to go?” asked Coney Island resident Jerry Ross. “I’m broke and I have to stay here because I can’t afford to evacuate.”
One man, who identified himself as “Mike the Pirate” laughed in the face of imminent danger.
“I not going to leave Coney Island,” he said. “Like the pirates of old, I’m going to tie myself to a pole and weather the storm.”
Red Hook residents were also refusing to leave — drawing a line in the sand that Irene will very likely wash away.
“There’s a lot of confusion and people aren’t getting the word that this is a mandatory evacuation,” said Jim Vogel, an aide to state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Red Hook). “This is going to be a huge problem.”
— with Daniel Bush, Dan MacLeod and Alfred Ng