Thousands leave New York over storm fears
(CH) Thousands of people have begun evacuating the east coat of New York, fearing the arrival of Hurricane Irene on Saturday morning.
In the Bahamas, terrified residents noted on Thursday the extent of destruction caused by Irene, the major hurricane of this season in the Atlantic. Powerful gusts tore away roofs and utility poles and destroyed entire homes, killing five people.
Irene went on its way to the more populated islands of the archipelago, causing dangerous waves and up to 30 centimetres of rainfall said the U.S. Hurricane Center (NHC), based in Miami.
According to the latest bulletin from the NHC, the eye of the storm was located at 2100 GMT on the northwest of the archipelago and progressed at a speed of 22 kmh north-northwest.
This trajectory will lead the hurricane straight to the East Coast of the United States. Located at about 1,000 km from North Carolina, the American Meteorological Services announced “a very dangerous storm” approaching New York, that may cause a rise in water of three to four metres.
In anticipation, the State authorities from North Carolina up to New York have declared a state of emergency and thousands of people were ordered to move away from the coast.
“People need to understand that it is about time to get ready,” warned head of federal emergency agency Craig Fugate.
The inauguration of the Martin Luther King Memorial that was to be held on Sunday in Washington, has already been pushed back to autumn due to the hurricane threat. Some 250,000 people were expected and U.S. President Barack Obama was supposed to speak at the ceremony.
With winds reaching 170 kmh, Irene is a Category three hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which has five. But according to the NHC, Irene “is expected to strengthen” on Friday.
Whereas the Caribbean is used to the violence of storms like these, the north-eastern United States usually escapes the worst depressions. Gloria, in 1985, was the last hurricane to hit New York. The city was also rocked this week by an earthquake.
On Thursday, the mayor ordered the evacuation of several hospitals and care homes for elderly people and urged New Yorkers to stock essential commodities in view of the hurricane that could hit the city on Sunday.
Specifying that Irene could indeed be “very dangerous”, Michael Bloomberg did not rule out the evacuation of vulnerable coastal areas in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and lower Manhattan. This could affect some 200,000 people. A decision will be made Saturday morning, he said.
Earlier in the day, the elected official had denied that the famous skyline of the “Big Apple” may be threatened. “The tall buildings are designed to withstand very strong winds,” and was more concerned about the potential damages to old building with only a few storeys.
So far, Irene has claimed five dead in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico, where the damage amounted to more than $500 million, according to Governor Luis Fortuno.