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New York Post

 

Call Irene a Warning

August 30, 2011

By Nicole Gelinas

New York did pretty well in Hurricane Irene -- but with one big sign of trouble for some future disaster that doesn’t peter out.

The best news is that MTA management and workers performed admirably. For the first time ever, the authority shut down the system in a well-ordered, predictable fashion.

The MTA learned from the Christmas blizzard: It’s better to leave people stranded at home than stranded wherever they were going, or on the way. So New Yorkers didn’t show up at stations late Saturday and early Sunday to be surprised that flooding had stopped trains, with no explanation. The decision also helped safeguard expensive trains and buses, which were kept away from the floods.

The shutdown also helped keep folks inside before and during the storm: People who had no way to get anywhere had little choice but to stay put. And the MTA’s decision was a public reminder to get food and water before the storm came -- as the city was quite visibly and gradually shutting down.

Yesterday, too, the MTA was more or less clear about what was working and what wasn’t -- nobody who was paying attention showed up to Metro-North stations.

Mayor Bloomberg also performed well -- asserting control, communicating concisely to the public, evacuating sick and infirm residents from hospitals and nursing homes and dishing out dire warnings (“they could die”) for able-bodied, able-minded people who didn’t heed evacuation orders. Shelters were well-marked and well-stocked, with the people who spent the night there satisfied.

Monday-morning quarterbacks looking to criticize the mayor can only come up with “he over-prepared” -- which is a good thing.

But Irene also showed that the city has a serious compliance problem in evacuating. Dismal percentages of people in low-lying areas such as Battery Park City and the Rockaways heeded the mayor’s order, with no good excuses proferred.

As The Post noted yesterday, “most of the 370,000 residents of flood-prone New York City neighborhoods defied mandatory evacuation orders, deriding Hurricane Irene’s ballyhooed blow.”

Guess what? If data bear out early reports, we had a worse evacuation record than New Orleans did before Katrina (which happened six years ago yesterday). About 80 percent of New Orleanians left then -- including hundreds of thousands who’d left for previous storms, only to watch from distant hotel rooms as nothing much happened to their city.

That’s a real problem for New York.

Imagine if the storm had brought days-long Lower Manhattan power outages and high-rise window blowouts that shattered glass through the air and on the ground (as Katrina did).

People would have inevitably started fires with candles. They’d have injured themselves with flying glass or trying to “rescue” themselves after it was too late, running out in flooded streets to seek shelter. Police, fire and federal resources would have gone just where they did in Katrina -- rescuing people who should have left, rather than safeguarding an empty city and starting recovery.

Now, some of the New Yorkers who did evacuate feel like chumps. Are we even less likely to evacuate, next time around?

The mayor’s office should interview the people who didn’t leave -- to figure out why. Was it cost? Worry over pets or property? Just complacency?

Perfectly healthy New Yorkers with at least some financial resources didn’t see much if any ill consequences, either natural or man-made, in staying.

Sorry: No one who defied evacuation should feel proud. They put other people in danger, just as those who stayed behind did in Katrina.

They, and we, were lucky -- this time.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/call_irene_warning_zxlWKiDDHlzK7SkOYutbCM#ixzz1WW1OOcXS

 

 
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