A killer storm in the nation's largest city, with flooding in all five boroughs, inaccessible highways and airports, and enormous traffic jams, would require an unprecedented response. After the summer of Katrina and Rita, New Yorkers are wondering if the city can handle the challenge.
"The plan now is full of technical and other management flaws," said state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who chairs a committee investigating the city's planned response. "There's a basic bottom line: We are incredibly vulnerable, and our leaders are patting us on the head saying, 'There, there. Trust us.'"
A recent WNBC-TV/Marist Poll indicated that 62 percent of New Yorkers felt it was not possible to evacuate their neighborhoods.
Emergency officials in their turn assure that New York is ready to respond to the hurricane risks, and the city dispatched staffers to New Orleans and Texas in hopes of learning from Katrina and Rita.
"There's a lot of criticism and public debate, but our plan is workable and we're prepared," said Jarrod Bernstein, spokesman for the city Office of Emergency Management. "Our plan is comprehensive and only getting better."
A major hurricane barrels into New York City about once every 90 years. The last big blow came with the 1938 Long Island Express, which killed 700 people, about 600 in New England, and left 63,000 people homeless.
The city's current response plan for a category 4 storm with 155 mph winds would handle 3.3 million evacuees and provide shelter for up to 800,000 displaced people, Bernstein said. But the OEM estimated it would take nearly 18 hours to evacuate just 1 million people, putting a severe strain on emergency services, mass transit and the infrastructure.
Unlike New Orleans, the city has no land below sea level. But it is particularly vulnerable because of its location: tucked in a bend between the New Jersey and Long Island coastlines, at a right angle to incoming storms. That could turn even a category 2 hurricane into a major nightmare, the AP reports.