Hurricane Irene Forces Evacuations, MTA Says System-Wide Transit Suspension Likely

Subways, buses, commuter trains would be suspended

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    NEWSLETTERS

    MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the agency is planning a system-wide shutdown of trains and buses if Hurricane Irene continues on its projected path. (Published Thursday, Aug 25, 2011)

    With Hurricane Irene bearing down on New York City, subways, buses and commuter trains will likely be suspended starting Saturday and nursing homes and hospitals are being ordered out of primary evacuation zones.

    Forecasters say a few showers could break out ahead of the storm on Saturday afternoon, with the wind and surf building into the night. If Hurricane Irene stays on the projected path, it could slice across the New York area sometime early Sunday as a Category 2 storm and then quickly head up into New England on Sunday late afternoon.

    For all your hurricane preparedness questions, go here. You can also make sure you're taking all the right steps with this preparedness checklist.

    NEW YORK CITY

    MTA Chairman Jay Walder said that if Hurricane Irene continues on the path that is forecast, the entire transit system would be shut down by Saturday afternoon. Bloomberg warned there would likely be no mass transit until midday Monday, at the earliest.

    Bloomberg said officials "assume the worst, prepare for that and hope for the best."

    The city's Office of Emergency Management command center has been activated, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency.

    The primary evacuation zone includes Battery Park City, Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Far Rockaway and Midland Beach and South Beach in Staten Island. See the zone in orange on this map.

    The nursing home and hospital evacuations must begin by Friday morning and be complete by 8 p.m. There are five hospitals in the zone, Bloomberg said. Facilities may not have to evacuate if they have backup power or other reasons that may excuse them; those cases must be approved by state and city health officials.

    Bloomberg said decisions about wider evacuations would be made by 8 a.m. Saturday. Some 250,000 people live in low-lying areas throughout the city.

    Officials acknowledged the tricky work of evacuating large swaths of New York City before a planned mass transit shutdown.

    The city is urging residents to stock up on groceries and flashlights and to make preparations for potential evacuations. For instructions on what to do and to find whether you live in a New York City evacuation zone, click here.

    Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the NYPD was putting row boats at police precincts in flood-prone areas. Emergency Service Unit officers also have small motorized boats that they can deploy in floods.

    The city has also hired emergency forest contractors and topped off hospital emergency generators with fuel in anticipation of the storm. Department of Sanitation workers have been asked to be on the lookout for any street debris that could clog drainage.

    LONG ISLAND

    Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said residents should be prepared to get out upon sudden evacuation orders.

    "We have to plan for the real deal here," Levy said. "Start making your plans now so you have adequate time to deal with the situation."

    Officials say if the storm track does not change, Nassau County will evacuate its barrier islands.

    "Be prepared to leave your home on short notice," said Edward Mangano, Nassau County executive.

    Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan is already encouraging residents of Fire Island to evacuate.

    LIPA has called in extra workers from utilities in Pennsylvania to deal with possible power outages, and Mangano said the county is preparing public shelters at Nassau Community College, SUNY Farmingdale and Locust Valley High School.

    Some 400,000 people live south of Sunrise Highway in Nassau County, which could be in the danger zone.

    Forecasters say when tropical systems get into northern latitudes, they tend to accelerate faster than the models project, meaning the storm might be out quicker, but not necessarily with a weaker impact.

    Even if the storm does not make landfall, concerns include flooding from the tropical downpours, wind damage and beach erosion.

    For Nassau evacuation routes and other emergency planning tools, go here. For Suffolk, start here.

    The MTA is already reducing some service to the East End. For the latest schedules changes, go to mta.info.

    NEW JERSEY

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has declared a state of emergency, saying the current track calls for New Jersey to face a "serious, significant event."

    Christie said he is considering mandatory evacuations and is asking people not to go to the shore this weekend.

    "If I order it, I expect it to be complied with," he said. "Let me assure you, we are not overreacting."

    Cape May County ordered mandatory evacuations Thursday evening.

    Plan your New Jersey evacuation route here.

    Forecasters say Irene is not likely to come ashore in New Jersey as a hurricane, but most storm projections show it passing close enough to the already rain-soaked state to cause flooding — maybe along many waterways — and tree-toppling winds that could take down power lines.

    "You want to go into a hurricane threat with dry soil, low rivers, a half moon," New Jersey state climatologist David Robinson said.

    The Garden State has gotten twice as much rain this month as in a normal August, and high tide happens at 8 a.m. EDT on Sunday, when Irene might be passing by.

    CONNECTICUT

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has also declared a state of emergency.

    Connecticut Light & Power, which serves 1.2 million customers, said it was canceling vacations, putting all its personnel on standby and coordinating with sister companies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to have crews available to restore power.

    "If current projections hold true, our state will be impacted by the storm this weekend and CL&P customers should prepare for potential power outages that could last a week or more in some areas," said Jeff Butler, the utility's president and chief operating officer.

    Days ahead of Irene's expected arrival, marinas pulled boats in from the water, tourists canceled shoreline getaways and Malloy urged residents to make storm preparations.

    Connecticut's hurricane preparedness information is here.

    Malloy urged local governments to clear drainage facilities ahead of the storm, which is projected to approach the state on Sunday. While the track and intensity of the storm remain uncertain, state officials said it could drop 6-10 inches of rain with more than a foot in isolated areas.

    "To put it as delicately as we can, we take this threat very, very seriously," Malloy said. "We believe that the time to prepare for what might be an eventuality is now."

    Officials said the state does not see a need for any evacuations but that could change.

    You can keep an eye on the forecast through our interactive radar, and stay with NBC New York on Twitter @NBCNewYork and Facebook/NBCNewYork.