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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The view from NYC of Hurricane Irene

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Former Spacing Radio producer Megan Hall was in New York City during the days leading up to Hurricane Irene. Here is her report on how NYC dealt with the mass evacuation.

NEW YORK — New York City was not the best place to live in last week. On Tuesday we experienced an earthquake and a day later, news of a giant impending hurricane.

It is a fascinating experience to see a city such as New York mobilized to protect itself against an unpredictable natural force. I found out on Thursday morning that my apartment on East 10th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, was just a half block away from the Zone C evacuation area, and while chances of mandatory evacuation in Zone C were rare, the fact remained that they were announced, and there was a plan in case they had to be used.

On Thursday afternoon my neighbor knocked on my door, telling me he was going door-to-door to find out who was going to be home over the weekend, because odds were that we were all going to be together without power, possibly for several days. We might need to ban together. Friday morning, I went to the Kmart (the only big housewares store in lower Manhattan) to stock up on flashlights, batteries, and duct tape for my windows but I was already too late. Kmart was sold out, and I soon found out that Best Buy, Radio Shack, Staples, Dwayne Reade, Walgreens and others were all out of stock as well. The city was panicking.

By Friday afternoon we knew that the transit system would be shut down on Saturday afternoon at noon, until at least Monday morning. No buses or subways. And later in the day came the announcements that bridges off the island would likely be closed down as well. Mayor Bloomberg held multiple press conferences strongly urging anyone who could get out, to leave the city.

I was torn, as were my friends in other boroughs. A friend from Long Island came to stay with a friend on the Upper West Side, another drove west to Pennsylvania, while most of my friends in Brooklyn stayed put, whether or not they were in mandatory evacuation Zone A or not. I’d heard that the East Village might be hit hard with flooding, but it wasn’t until Saturday morning that I made the decision to leave. I woke up at 9:30am to a yellow-gray sky and completely empty streets. My neighborhood, especially on the weekends, is filled with people, and the empty stores, sidewalks, and lack of taxis made the decision for me. I didn’t want to be the last person in my area who decided not to get out of harms way.

Now that we know that Hurricane Irene was mostly hype and not a lot of action, we realize that the majority of the preparations for the storm were unnecessary. However, I must give props to Mayor Bloomberg for swift action: organizing New Yorkers is no small task, and getting them to leave Manhattan is an even bigger feat. If the Hurricane had hit New York with the ferocity that was predicted, I believe we would have been prepared. But I’m also glad we didn’t have the chance to find out.



  1. I rode out the storm in my home in Inwood, which is at the very tippy-top of Manhattan Island. Honesty, when it was 1 am, I was exhausted and the worst was yet to come, I began to freak out a bit. But it all ended quite well.

    If you guys don’t mind, I’ll write up a longer comment tonight with the whole before, during and after. Certainly the strangest days in New York since 9/11.

  2. Mostly hype? I don’t think so. There are entire towns in Upstate New York and Vermont that no longer exist essentially, power is still out in parts of NY and NJ, and rivers have yet to crest in many flood-prone areas in NJ. This storm has cost billions in property damage and continue to threaten people’s lives and property even though it’s long gone.

    Just be grateful your tiny studio apartment was unscathed. You can still meet up with your hipster friends at your local East Village bar and yuk it up over a PBR or two. Meanwhile, there are lots of people only a few miles from you who are going to be feeling the effects of this storm for a long time to come.

  3. Disappointed,
    The horrifically bad situation caused by the Irene in Upstate NY, Vermont, and New Jersey, among others, is, of course, a different story. I meant no disrespect to people in those communities. I was speaking specifically to the situation in Manhattan and the measures that were taken to protect residents of New York City, where very minimal damage was done. 

  4. Dear Disappointed:

    Yes, it was mostly hype FOR NEW YORK CITY, which is what this article is about. Your derision, and lack of understanding about what this blog post is about, is really what’s disappointing.

  5. Dear Moya,

    With respect, “mostly hype” implies that there was never anything to worry about in NYC and that officials exaggerated the concern for… some purpose that is not clear to me. The reality is that New York got lucky.

    In any emergency situation it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen. Public officials can’t win: if they downplay the risk and something bad happens, they will be (rightly) criticized for failing to do enough. It’s better to play it safe. Unfortunately, that leaves them open to accusations of exaggerating the risk if the worst-case scenario fails to materialize.

    It’s clear from Megan’s final paragraph that she recognizes this. But I agree with Disappointed that “mostly hype” is, at best, an unfortunate description of the facts.