NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City ordered the evacuation of hundreds of nursing home residents on Tuesday and the closure of parks and beaches ahead of a threatening new storm as the region struggles to recover from Superstorm Sandy’s deadly flooding and high winds.
With a strong “Nor‘easter” forecast to strike the devastated area late on Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said residents in the city’s lowest-lying and hardest-hit areas would also be evacuated to shelters on Wednesday.
“We just don’t need to send our first responders into the ocean to save someone who is being foolish,” Bloomberg said.
Outside construction work must stop at noon on Wednesday and parks and beaches will also close then for 24 hours. Bloomberg ordered the evacuation on Tuesday of over 600 people from four healthcare centers in the ravaged Rockaways section of Queens.
“These four facilities are in the most heavily-impacted area of the Rockaways and have been successfully operating on generator power. A Nor‘easter storm surge could compromise their generators, putting elderly residents at risk,” Bloomberg said.
He also said people would be evacuated from the south shore of Staten Island - home to nearly half of the 40 people killed in New York City by Sandy.
Bloomberg stressed that the evacuations, which were designed to coincide with high tides when the storm surge would be highest, would not be as widespread as the mandatory evacuations of large parts of the city before Sandy struck on October 29.
Former hurricane Sandy was a rare hybrid superstorm when it lashed the U.S. Northeast, swamping seaside towns, flooding the New York subway and knocking out power to millions of homes. It killed at least 120 people in the United States and Canada.
The new storm was forecast to bring an inch of rain possibly mixing with sleet, winds gusts up to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour), and a surge of up to 4.5 feet, with coastal flooding expected near midnight on Wednesday, Bloomberg said.
“That makes trees that already have their base flooded more likely to fall over, and that’s something we’re going to worry about,” Bloomberg said.
Areas that suffered erosion from Sandy’s record-breaking 13.2 feet storm surge may have problems with the smaller surge of the new storm, he said.
There are also 91,000 households in New York City that lost power during Sandy and were still waiting for it to be restored.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the power restoration efforts were disappointing at best. “I am unsatisfied with the performance of all the utilities .. I don’t think their performance has been adequate - period,” Cuomo said.
The additional crews brought in from around the country to help get New York back on its feet after Sandy will be held until the region recovers from the second storm in as many weeks, he said.
“I am directing the utility companies not to release any of those crews” until we get through the next storm, Cuomo said.
He warned that the new front could further complicate a gasoline shortage that has created long lines at the pumps, which Cuomo blamed on “panic buying.”
Writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker