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Hospitals Along the East River Evacuate in Advance of Hurricane Irene

By Mary Johnson | August 27, 2011 10:47am | Updated on August 27, 2011 3:23pm
Roughly 400 patients were evacuated from NYU Langone Medical Center on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. Those who could not go home were taken to other hospitals in the area that aren't prone to flooding.
Roughly 400 patients were evacuated from NYU Langone Medical Center on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. Those who could not go home were taken to other hospitals in the area that aren't prone to flooding.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

KIPS BAY — NYU Langone Medical Center was completely evacuated Friday as Hurricane Irene churned its way up the East Coast.

The storm, currently a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 miles per hour, is on track to hit New York City on Sunday morning. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has issued a mandatory evacuation for Zone A in the city, which includes flood-prone parts of Manhattan such as Battery Park City and portions of the East Village, as well as the stretch of First Avenue in Kips Bay that is home to NYU Langone Medical Center.

Long before the evacuation was made mandatory on Friday afternoon, ambulances lined the streets around the hospital, located on First Avenue near East 33rd Street. Emergency medical technicians sat on bumpers and chatted over food cart snacks while they waited for the official go ahead to start loading patients.

Around late morning on Friday, the ambulances finally began pulling up to the hospital entrances and removing patients confined to wheelchairs and stretchers.

The evacuation affected roughly 400 patients at the medical center’s Tisch Hospital and Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. Those able to be discharged were sent home. Those who could not be discharged were transported to hospitals outside the flood zone. NYU Medical Center declined to specify which hospitals would receive the evacuees.

Vanessa Booker, 47, was at the hospital Friday morning to visit her 87-year-old mother, who had open-heart surgery the day before and was still breathing off a respirator in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Booker, who lives in southern Georgia, said she planned to ride out the storm with her mother, wherever that would be.

"I'm more concerned about her," Booker said. "If the hurricane takes her, I'm going with her."

Simon Sutowski, 34, sat in a wheelchair outside the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine on Friday afternoon with his wife, Agata, waiting to find out when Sutowski would be moved, and where.

Sutowski, whose neck was encircled by a neck brace, suffered a spinal cord injury when he fell off a boat into some shallow water and hit a rock. The Maspeth, Queens, resident has been in the hospital for two months. His 30-year-old wife is seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child.

Sutowski found out Friday afternoon that he would be moved, although by 1 p.m. he still wasn’t sure where.

"All I know is that I'm leaving," Sutowski said. "I told them I'd rather go home for the weekend. They won't let me.”

In addition to relocating patients, NYU Medical Center was also forced to close down its emergency room on Friday.

Officials posted a sign on the door to the ER late in the afternoon redirecting all those in need of emergency medical care to Bellevue Hospital Center, situated on higher ground just a few blocks south.

The nearby 850-bed men's homeless shelter, housed in the old Bellevue psychiatric hospital, was also conducting a mass evacuation on Friday, loading its residents onto vans and moving them out of Zone A. The men waiting to leave the area said they hadn't been told where they were heading. The city's Department of Homeless Services did not return a call requesting comment.

Although the blocks immediately surrounding NYU Medical Center were subject to mandatory evacuations, the bulk of the area around the hospital does not fall within the Zone A evacuation zone and is less vulnerable to flooding.

The area near Stuyvesant Town falls into Zone B, which is prone to flooding in hurricanes that escalate to Category 2 or higher. Portions of Gramercy qualify as Zone C and are susceptible to flooding only from Category 3 and 4 storms.

There are a few Zone C pockets north of East 39th Street along the East River as well, but much of that area is considered safe from floods.

For those residents who fall into the Zone A mandatory evacuation zone, emergency officials have set up an evacuation center at Baruch College, located on East 25th Street and Lexington Avenue.

Late Friday afternoon, while emergency staffers were taping informational signs to a Baruch College building and people around the city were finding temporary safe havens, one father was moving his daughter back to Manhattan. 

Patrick DeBeliso, 54, drove his daughter, a sophomore at NYU, all the way from Detroit, Mich., to Manhattan in time for the new-student move-ins that were scheduled to take place this weekend, he said. But yestereday, school officials postponed that date because of Hurricane Irene.

His daughter, who was moving into the dorms on Third Avenue between East 24th and East 25th streets, was supposed to help the incoming freshmen get settled.

Now, with the school taking steps to keep kids away from the school for the weekend, her father found himself a little uneasy about the prospect of leaving his daughter to ride out the storm on the dorm's 16th floor.

"Hell yeah, I actually am," DeBeliso said.

His daughter was planning to stay in the dorm Friday night, but DeBeliso said he would probably push to have her spend Saturday and Sunday with him in a hotel on the New Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel.

"She's got a will of her own," he said.

But he joked that he would let her friends come to the hotel too, if it would help convince his daughter to join him in Jersey.  

"I don't care," he said with a smile.  "We'll have a party, a hurricane party."

For additional information on evacuation zones and which shelter you should head to, visit www.nyc.gov/hurricanezones or call 311.