Last winter I blogged about the lessons in failed leadership resulting from the historic and messy Blizzard of 2010 in New York City and the fury of my Brooklyn neighbors as days went by without subway service or adequate snow plows. Now in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, some New Yorkers are grousing that there should not have been so many evacuations or closings. Yet Friday, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference to announce mandatory evacuations in Battery Park City, Coney Island and other coastal regions, including the beaches in Staten Island, he didn’t have the luxury of hindsight. He even announced that the city’s subways and buses would shut down for the first time in the city’s history rather than risk stranding passengers in flooded streets or underground railways.
When you review the unfolding scenario, it’s clear our leadership did not over-react. As Irene first headed up the coast as a category 2 Hurricane, the worst case scenario presented by meteorologists predicted a slightly weakened category 1 monster flooding lower Manhattan and driving in the high tides with 100 mile per hour winds. That scenario could have resulted in severe damage to the subway infrastructure and power grid in the lower Manhattan area, not to mention blown out windows in many high rise buildings throughout the boroughs. Coastal regions like Coney Island, the Rockaways and Long Beach could have been flooded and cut off from the mainland under this early prediction.
Irene was not downgraded to a tropical storm with winds closer to 60-70 miles per hour until just before the eye of the storm set down on Coney Island on Sunday morning. I watched the ominous early flooding that could have been so catastrophic if the winds had remained stronger. The fact is New York City had no reported fatalities that day and little major damage. As the sun returned over New York City on Monday morning, the subways and buses were running again and my neighborhood was cleaning up. Irene had remained a ferocious storm, as thousands of residents flooded out of their homes in Long Island and New Jersey can still attest. Yes, I am grateful for over-preparedness! That’s the New York I love!