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Battery Park City Braces for Hurricane Irene

By Julie Shapiro | August 25, 2011 1:35pm | Updated on August 25, 2011 3:46pm
The city has provided a hurricane evacuation map.
The city has provided a hurricane evacuation map.
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BATTERY PARK CITY — As Hurricane Irene churns toward the East Coast, Battery Park City residents and business owners are bracing for what could be a devastating hit.

The Category 3 storm is now barreling through the Bahamas and could strike Manhattan with heavy rains and winds of at least 60 miles per hour Sunday, prompting storm surges and possible evacuations of Battery Park City and other low-lying areas, Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned Thursday.

The city has a hurricane evacuation map to direct New Yorkers to centers where they can ride out the storm.

Bloomberg said it was too soon to say whether evacuations would be necessary, but officials will closely monitor the storm's trajectory and update residents on what they need to do to stay safe.

"I'm very nervous about it," said Linda Belfer, a longtime Battery Park City resident who uses a wheelchair, when told of the threat.

"I've not seen a hurricane here in 28 years" living in the area, she added.

At Gateway Plaza, Battery Park City's largest residential complex, staff is compiling a list of all elderly and disabled tenants, to ensure everyone gets taken care of in case of an emergency, said Greg Tumminia, Gateway's general manager.

Tumminia plans to notify all 1,750 apartments on Thursday, urging them to remove all unsecured objects from their terraces and secure windows. He is also testing the building's pumps and hiring extra workers to be on call Sunday and Monday.

Tumminia said Gateway would follow the city's instructions on whether or not to evacuate tenants.

Battery Park City's Community Emergency Response Team also sprang into action Thursday morning, meeting with building managers and taking an inventory of supplies and equipment.

The CERT's leaders advised residents to gather several gallons of drinking water, non-perishable food, prescription medications, flashlights, batteries and waterproof clothing.

Hank Wisner, a member of the CERT team who has lived in Battery Park City for 14 years, suggested people keep their cell phones charged and, in the event of a power outage, send text messages rather than make phone calls, as it uses less battery power.

Wisner also advised Battery Park City residents to contact friends or family who live on higher ground, so tenants have a place to go if the neighborhood is evacuated.

Wisner said much depends on Irene's path and the timing of the landfall.

"If the hurricane hits when the tide is high, we're going to have a problem in Battery Park City," Wisner said. "Timing is so important."

Battery Park City is particularly vulnerable because it lies at sea level and was built on landfill, which is more porous than bedrock. A concrete seawall keeps the water back, but if it is breached, the storm surge could undermine the neighborhood's buildings, said Sidney Baumgarten, chief of the Battery Park City CERT.

Other low-lying areas in Manhattan include the Financial District, East Village and western portions of TriBeCa and Chelsea, according to city maps.

However, since it is too soon to say how seriously Hurricane Irene will affect New York, most Battery Park City residents and business owners said they are hoping for the best.

Richard Cohn, a partner at Merchants Hospitality, which owns the Southwest NY and Merchants River House restaurants in Battery Park City, said he is making sure all outdoor furniture is secure.

But beyond that, he isn't worried.

"You prepare for it but you don't get concerned about it," Cohn said. "I hope it's not as bad as they say."

To draw customers in spite of the storm, Merchants River House will offer an alcoholic Hurricane Lemonade on Sunday, Cohn said.

"What's that saying about when life gives you lemons?" Cohn said with a laugh. "Make lemonade."