NEW YORK - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of about 375,000 people from low-lying areas Sunday and said schools will be closed Monday as the metropolitan area braces for Hurricane Sandy.
Bloomberg's announcement came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the city's subway, bus and commuter rail systems to shut down at 7 p.m. Sunday, setting the stage for the nation's largest city to be essentially brought to a standstill for the second time in 14 months.
The precautions were the same in August 2011 when Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the city. By the time Irene reached New York City, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, and damage in the metropolitan area was minimal.
But city and state officials up and down the East Coast have warned against complacency as Sandy approaches because it will be clashing with winter weather systems in the area, creating potentially catastrophic weather conditions and high storm surges.
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"Let me stress that we are ordering this evacuation for the safety of the approximately 375,000 people in these areas," Bloomberg said at a morning briefing. He warned that experts anticipate a 6- to 11-foot storm surge from Sandy.
The areas potentially affected include Coney Island, the Rockaways, the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan, and the perimeter of Staten Island.
Bloomberg said everyone in those areas should be gone by 7 p.m. Sunday and that dozens of shelters were being set up to accommodate people, and their pets, who did not have relatives or friends to host them. He also said that while those who refused to leave would not be arrested, they would not be looked upon kindly if emergency workers were called in to help them at the height of the storm.
"They're not going to get arrested, but they are being ... very selfish. A lot of people say, 'Oh well, I'm just going to tough it out,'" Bloomberg said. "If down the road you can't tough it out ... those first responders put their lives in danger and aren't available for true emergencies."
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