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.
"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.
The mayor warned residents not to be fooled by the sunny weather
Friday and said police officers would use the loudspeakers on their
patrol vehicles to spread the word about the evacuation.
"We do not have the manpower to go door-to-door and drag people out of their homes," he said. "Nobody's going to get fined. Nobody's going to go to jail. But if you don't follow this, people might die."
Construction was stopping. Workers were securing scaffolding and
cranes. Concerts and other events were canceled, but the show was on along Broadway.
In a city where many residents don't own a car, Bloomberg said he still believed officials could handle any overflow of the transit system.
"Nobody expects you to go walk 10 miles," he said. "You'll get to the shelter, it's our responsibility and we think that we can handle it."
For those with cars, parking is available at the city's evacuation centers. From there, each family will be assigned to a shelter. Buses will run from the evacuation centers to the shelters.
The MTA has never before halted its entire system - which carries about 5 million passengers on an average weekday - before a storm, though the system was seriously hobbled by an August 2007 rainstorm that disabled or delayed every one of the city's subway lines. The last planned shutdown of the entire transit system was during a 2005 strike.
"We're working forward on a plan that will do two things: It will help effectuate the evacuation ... and it will protect the safety of our customers and protect the safety of our equipment," MTA Chairman Jay Walder said.