Friday, August 26, 2011

So Irene is coming to New York this weekend

And the bloggers wife and 2 friends are in New York this weekend , both Manhatten and New Jersey because she loves New York...go figure, bad timing for a trip...

NEW YORK — Evacuations up and down the U.S. East Coast were under way Friday as Hurricane Irene barrelled north from America's southern states and threatened up to 65 million people — that's one in five Americans — who live in the swath that defines the storm's possible trajectories.

As the potential for enormous damage loomed, the White House said U.S President Barack Obama had told aides he would cut short his vacation and return to the U.S. capital.

Obama had, a little more than an hour earlier, warned East Coaster residents to take the threat of the hurricane seriously, and pledged that federal help had already been mobilized.

"All indications point to this being a historic hurricane," he said in the audio address from a farm on the northeastern island of Martha's Vineyard, where his family would remain as scheduled until Saturday morning, while he would leave Friday night.

What's generally considered to be the last "historic" hurricane — Katrina in 2005 — turned into a public-relations nightmare for Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, as more than 1,800 people died during flooding in New Orleans and amid huge destruction along the Gulf of Mexico coastline east of that city.

Bush faced heavy criticism and was widely accused of failing to deliver a more intense federal response than the one that unfolded.

With Obama's job approval ratings already low because of anger over high unemployment rates and the sluggish economy, the current U.S. president will want to avoid the possibility of similar criticism.

"I think the president simply reached the conclusion that it would be more prudent for him to be in Washington, D.C., and to be at the White House at the end of the day today," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

In his address, Obama sought to reassure the public that his administration has done all that is conceivable to prepare for Irene, and urged Americans to do their bit.

"Although we can't predict with perfect certainty the impact of Irene over the next few days, the federal government has spent the better part of last week working closely with officials in communities that could be affected by this storm to see to it that we are prepared," he said.

"So now is the time for residents of these communities, in the hours that remain, to do the same."

Preparations were particularly feverish in New York, America's largest city, where Mayor Mike Bloomberg is keen to cover all bases — especially in the wake of his administration's disastrous response to a snowstorm last winter.

By repeatedly warning that people "might die" if they fail to heed mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying areas near the ocean or other water, Bloomberg has heightened the sense of urgency as the hurricane approaches — even though the newest projected paths of Hurricane Irene have it largely sparing New York as it passes Sunday.

"This is nothing to take lightly," Bloomberg said Friday. "We can joke about this on Monday morning, but until then it is a matter of life and death."

Some 250,000 of New York's nine million people are subject to the mandatory evacuation order whereby they must leave their homes for at least 24 hours and head to shelters or make other arrangements.

Bloomberg said none of the evacuees should fear widespread looting.

"I think you can expect people in New York City to behave and to understand that we're all in this together," he said, suggesting a sharp contrast with the widespread lawlessness that New Orleans suffered during the flooding of that city.

"We do have the world's greatest police department, but I don't know that they're going to be needed to stop that kind of behaviour."

Still, the mayor added, "In the end, what is more important, your life or your belongings?"

The city will come to a near-total halt late Saturday and throughout Sunday as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority shuts down New York's entire bus and subway systems.

MTA officials said that's necessary because wind and flooding projections are deemed certain to provoke accidents. Halting the service also makes it easier to get it up and running again on Monday when, Bloomberg said, the city plans on resuming a "normal" workday.

By law, people who ignore evacuation orders could face a misdemeanour charge that carries up to a $500 fine, but Bloomberg said no one would be prosecuted.

"We're not trying to punish people, we're trying to protect them," he said of the evacuation effort — New York's first-ever mandatory one.

He beseeched people not to attempt to swim in the sea, warning that the "moon is in (the) right place to give high tides" — which in turn, could easily sweep swimmers away.

Bloomberg also urged everyone to remain indoors Sunday to avoid being hit by objects that inevitably will be whipped up by winds projected to exceed 50 kilometres per hour in the city.

"If you can, stay inside on Sunday, it is a good time to catch up or sleep late," he said.

New York Stock Exchange Euronext vowed to resume trading Monday; spokesman Richard Adamonis said Friday there were "contingency plans in place for such events."

Weekend sporting events were cancelled up and down the eastern seaboard after governors of successive eastern states declared states of emergency.

Hurricane Irene poses the biggest threat to the U.S. Northeast since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. The National Hurricane Center said Irene is on a path to make landfall in North Carolina's Outer Banks Saturday, then skirt the East Coast, passing either over or by New York on Sunday, then proceed on to New England.

To co-ordinate responses, Obama spoke Friday with governors and mayors of big cities along the eastern seaboard, White House officials said. He also was briefed by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator; White House chief of staff Bill Daley and other officials.

Obama signed a federal emergency declaration for North Carolina, authorizing the Homeland Security Department and FEMA to co-ordinate disaster response and mobilize resources.


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