Fresh evacuation orders on east coast
Coastal residents of New York and New Jersey faced fresh warnings to evacuate their homes today as a new storm took aim, a week after Superstorm Sandy left dozens dead and millions without power.
Forecasters said the latest storm appeared weaker than first thought, but it still carried the threat of high winds and storm surges that could cause further damage to the already weakened infrastructure of the country’s most densely populated region.
Hundreds of thousands remained without power as temperatures hit freezing at night, and finding them emergency housing – in some cases, for the long term - was the greatest challenge.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered police to use loudspeakers to warn vulnerable residents, many of them in low-income public housing, about evacuating.
“Even though it’s not anywhere near as strong as Sandy – nor strong enough, in normal times, for us to evacuate anybody – out of precaution and because of the changing physical circumstances, we are going to go to some small areas and ask those people to go to higher ground,” Mr Bloomberg said.
Winds were kicking up this morning in New Jersey, and some battered shore communities were ordering mandatory evacuations for later in the day.
But many were deciding to stay, worried about their empty homes being looted.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency put a number to the storm’s homeless in New York and New Jersey, saying 95,000 people were eligible for emergency housing assistance. Just under a million people were still without power in the region.
Storm surges along the coasts of New Jersey and New York were expected to reach 3 feet (0.9 metres), only half to a third of what the hurricane-driven Sandy caused last week. But Sandy destroyed some protective dunes, especially in New Jersey, making even a weaker surge dangerous.
High winds which could reach 65 mph could stall power restoration efforts or cause further outages.
New York City was closing all parks, playgrounds and beaches and ordering all construction sites to be secured. On Tuesday evening, Mr Bloomberg ordered three nursing homes and an adult care facility evacuated from Queens’ vulnerable Rockaway Peninsula.
But Alex Ocasio was not convinced and planned to ride out the latest storm, even after seeing cars float by his front door during Sandy.
He put up a handmade sign – “Have gun. Will shoot U” – outside his apartment and started using a bed frame to barricade the door. He has gas, so he keeps the oven on and boils water to stay warm at night.
“It gets a little humid, but it’s not bad,” he said. “I’m staying. Nothing can be worse than what happened last week.”
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it was not wise to stay put. “I think your life is more important than property,” he said.
Major airlines are cancelling flights in and out of the New York area ahead of the new storm.
United is suspending most services this afternoon. It warns that bad weather is likely to cause more delays and cancellations throughout the North East.
American Airlines is also shutting down in New York. It will also stop flights to and from Philadelphia.
Most other airlines, including Delta Airlines and JetBlue Airways, are asking passengers to reschedule their North East flights for a later date.
Superstorm Sandy last week led to about 24,000 flight cancellations.