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Is Queens ready for the big storm?

The recent thunderstorms that caused massive flooding throughout Queens coupled with the specter of hurricane season looming has some residents and elected officials worrying that the borough is not adequately prepared should a larger storm hit.
“If two separate brief rain storms could inflict this much damage on communities in Queens, we don’t have to imagine what could happen if a serious nor’easter or hurricane were to hit New York City,” said City Councilmember Leroy Comrie, whose southeast Queens District was pounded during last week’s storms. “We only need look to the tragedy of Katrina to see what the future holds.”
While the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in consultation with other city and emergency response agencies continue to prepare for a potentially active storm season, officials say that being prepared and educated on what to do if a hurricane or strong storm hits is crucial.
“People should have a plan and follow the plan,” said Joan Foley, Director of the Queens Office of the American Red Cross in Greater New York. “They have to have a plan for at work and at home as well as have the supplies to implement the plan.”
Foley’s office has held presentations and distributed information in nine different languages to community groups throughout the year about hurricane preparedness, and she said her office has made a special effort to reach out to seniors and non-English speakers in the area.
As part of its effort to educate New Yorkers, OEM has launched a Ready New York: Hurricane Guide complete with vital information, tips for survival including elements for a ‘go bag’ in case they need to evacuate and maps that designate Queens into three zones where residents could be asked to evacuate from if the storm is fierce enough.
Residents in Zone A, which includes all low-lying coastal areas, face the highest risk of flooding and residents are susceptible to evacuation from a storm surge from any hurricane making landfall near the city.
People in Zone B, could experience flooding from a category 2 hurricane (winds 96-110 miles per hour (mph) and a 6-8 feet storm surge) and residents in Zone C, which includes areas further inland from the coast could face flooding on a category 3 (winds 111-130 mph and 9-12 feet storm surge) or higher hurricane.
In addition, residents who live outside these areas are not in evacuation zones, which means the city classifies them as having zero risk to experience storm surge flooding from a hurricane.
Seth Golbey, who is the Director of Planning and External Relations for the American Red Cross in Greater New York, said it is imperative for residents to know what zone they are in and how to proceed if an evacuation order is implemented.
Golbey said that the Red Cross is in constant communication with officials at OEM, and if the tracking for a potentially dangerous storm showed that New York City could be vulnerable, OEM could open an Emergency Operation Center up to 72 hours before the storm hit.
“The job of educating the residents of the city is a never-ending one; the residents can never know too much,” Golbey said.
Councilmember Comrie agreed, but he said he believed most city residents had not received adequate information to prepare them for a hurricane.
“Most people don’t react until it’s too late, unfortunately,” Comrie said. “We have to get them to react earlier.”
Meanwhile, although the community boards in Queens may not play a very direct role in a potential hurricane, they also are working with the city agencies to prepare residents prior to a storm.
Many community boards are distributing preparedness information packets to residents at meetings, in newsletters or at neighborhood events.
“We’ve received information and have discussed evacuation centers, but we keep our fingers crossed that we won’t flood,” said Susan Seinfeld, District Manager of Community Board 11, which covers areas in northeast Queens. “Our area would have to go up to a category three storm [for evacuations], but no doubt, in any heavy rain, people will have flooding,” she said.
Elizabeth Braton, Chair of Community Board 10, said that her area in southern Queens would have a much greater chance of having evacuations should a hurricane hit.
“The entire Hamilton Beach area and some spots in South Ozone Park are in the hurricane evacuation zone,” Braton said. “The worst part of flooding is the street conditions. There are drainage issues the city needs to address.”
Richard Hellenbrecht, Chair of Community 13 agreed, saying that many of the areas in his district that are near Jamaica Bay are prone to flooding, and they are undergoing infrastructure improvements that leave the area vulnerable.
“Many areas in Rosedale are being worked on now,” Hellenbrecht said, “where many neighborhoods are near Jamaica Bay. There has been massive construction for about 10 years now to relieve the area.”
With a history of flooding problems and nature’s unpredictability, Hellenbrecht said residents should be ready this year.
“We are probably due for [a hurricane], and hopefully people have their ‘go bags,’ and know what to do,” he said.

Tracy Soren and Michelle Varga contributed additional reporting to this story

Editor’s Note: Prior to a storm, residents are encouraged to go to OEM’s web site at www.nyc.gov/oem to view preparedness information and check back at the site during a storm for constant updates about the latest information affecting the city.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR A GO BAG

  • Copies of your important documents in a waterproof and portable container (insurance cards, photo IDs, proof of address, etc.)
  • Extra set of car and house keys
  • Credit/ATM cards and $50-$100 cash in small denominations
  • Bottled water and nonperishable food such as energy or granola bars
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-operated AM/FM radio and extra batteries
  • Up-to-date medication information and other essential personal items. Keep a list of the medications each member of your household takes, why they take them, and their dosages. Also include all doctors’ names and phone numbers
  • First-aid kit
  • Contact and meeting place information for your household and a small regional map
  • Child care supplies or other special care items.
    Courtesy of OEM

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