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Mayor announces mandatory evacuation and MTA service shutdown in anticipation of Irene

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By JOE Anuta and Ivan Pereira

Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the mandatory evacuation of several flood-prone areas across the five boroughs at a news conference Friday afternoon — the first time the city has ever issued such an order.

“Nobody is going to get fined or go to jail, but if you don’t follow this, people might die,” he said, stressing the severe threat posed by Hurricane Irene.

Residents are required to be out of their homes if they live in what is known as “Zone A” by 5 p.m. Saturday, the Mayor said. In addition, he said that all residents of the Rockaways, regardless of whether they live in Zone A or not, are required to evacuate their homes as well.

The only Zone A areas in Queens include Broad Channel, portions of the Rockaways and parts of Long Island City.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, the city had opened 91 emergency shelters across the five boroughs, which could accommodate about 71,000 people, the mayor and his aide said. The centers will be staffed with city employees and will have emergency provisions on hand.

The city will begin shutting down public transportation at noon Saturday as well, Bloomberg said, and all service will eventually be stopped on the city’s subways, buses, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the shutdown will be implemented so the MTA can store equipment safely. Many storage facilities are located in flood-prone areas, and equipment will be stored on tracks normally used in the day-to-day operations.

The three entities that control the bridges between boroughs and out of the city will each make independent decisions as the hurricane nears.

The MTA, the Port Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority will all start to consider imposing slower speed limits and ultimately bridge closures if winds exceed about 40 mph, Bloomberg said.

The city had already evacuated senior centers and residents with severe illnesses from Zone A areas yesterday.

But the mayor urged residents who live in Zone A areas not to wait until the last minute to make preparations.

“You have to make preparations to leave right now,” he said. “Tomorrow you will not have the advantage of mass transit to assist you,” he said.

Walder also told residents not to wait for the last train, since the system will not be able to handle everyone who needs to move at the last minute.

The city’s website could not handle all the traffic heaped on it Thursday and Friday, according to the mayor.

The site crashed several times and was crawling along Friday afternoon, even after the mayor said that some of the traffic had been diverted to other servers.

The city has also begun evacuating homeless shelters and foster care homes around the five boroughs. Some of the displaced people will be sent to El Camino Inn in Jamaica.

He said the National Weather Service has predicted that the storm might hit New York as a Category 1 storm, although in the best-case scenario it could veer east and spare the city the worst of the rain and wind.

Police will be driving in the zones with loudspeakers on their cars, urging residents to seek safety.

The Evacuation Center marked in the hurricane evacuation zone map as Aqueduct Racetrack at Rockaway Boulevard and 108th Street was replaced by John Adams High School, at 101-01 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park, the city said.

The evacuation at Christ the King High School, at 68-02 Metropolitan Ave. was moved to Grover Cleveland High School, at 21-27 Himrod St.Andrew Cuomo officially declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon in anticipation of  the storm which has already unleashed serious damage in the Caribbean and neared the Outer Banks of North Caroline Friday afternoon.

A state of emergency allows the state to “use state resources to assist local governments more effectively and quickly, allows the state to activate the national Emergency Management Assistance Compact to bring in resources from out of the state, and enables New York to access key federal resources earlier in anticipation of an emergency,” according to the governor.

In Jamaica Friday afternoon, large National Guard trucks were already fueling up at a gas station.

DEP crews began cleaning out the catch basins Thursday afternoon in low-lying southeast Queens, which is prone to flooding, to make sure they can handle the storm water when Irene is expected to make landfall in the New York area sometime Sunday. In addition to the storm sewer cleaning, the mayor said that 15 hurricane evacuation centers will be on standby in Queens to handle any emergency.

Con Edison is reminding customers to be on high alert if the storm hits the city and for homeowners to have flashlights, batteries, radios and other supplies. Customers are urged to call 1-800-752-6633, if possible, to report power outages.

Log onto http://www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/ready/hurricane_guide.shtml for more information about the city’s hurricane preparation and a location of evacuation centers.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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