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Evacuation Zone Residents Split on Whether to Head to Higher Ground

By  Jess Wisloski Alan Neuhauser Joe Parziale and Paul Lomax | October 28, 2012 5:38pm | Updated on October 28, 2012 6:28pm

NEW YORK CITY — Hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for the evacuation of coastal and low-lying areas ahead of Hurricane Sandy, residents of those areas were divided about whether they should leave.

Buses to help Battery Park City residents relocate where largely empty Sunday afternoon, and it wasn't until later in the day that a flurry of activity appeared at the base of the towers, as residents began moving bags into waiting cabs and livery cars.

Still others were determined to stay put, coming home with loads of groceries.

Richard Gilmartin, 47, was actually moving into his new unit on South End Avenue as his new neighbors were temporarily moving out to avoid Hurricane Sandy.

"I moved from the Upper West Side to Battery Park City to be closer to work, and surprisingly enough, my moving company called me this morning to cancel their truck," Gilmartin said. "I wonder, 'Why?' Really, I think it's comical, but I guess the city has to do what it has to do."

To determine whether you live in the evacuation zone, click here.

In Brooklyn, some residents boarded up their homes and businesses, bracing for the onslaught of rain and wind forecasters expect Hurricane Sandy will bring, along with the 6 to 11-foot storm surges for those living in Zone A, the highest-risk area for flooding according to the city's Hurricane Evacuation Plan.

"I should have sandbags, but I don't," said architect Jim Cameron, 42, as he used plastic tarp, wood planks and a fastener to seal the cellar hatch outside his building on Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, a Zone A neighborhood.

Even among families, he said, there was a divide as to whether to stay and fight the rising tide, or get out while it's possible.

"My kids have already evacuated to a friend's house. I'm going to stay tonight, see how ridiculous it gets," he said.

Craig and Emily Garrison dragged bags down a Red Hook sidewalk towards their car, and said they were planning to stay with family in Pittsburgh until after the storm.

"It switches between, 'This is really happening to me? What a pain,' and, 'Oh my God, I hope nothing happens to my stuff," said Emily Garrison. "At the end of the day, it's just stuff. But still."

In Sunset Park, crews at Industry City Partners laid sandbags outside one of the company's buildings on Third Avenue near the waterfront.

"We have equipment in the basement, so we have to protect it," property manager Manuel Arboleda, 60, said. "We got here at 8 a.m. I don't know what time we're going to be here tonight. Crazy hours."

Further south in Manhattan Beach, where houses lay within dangerous striking distance of potentially vicious swells, most of the driveways were empty Sunday afternoon. Those who were home said they were well-prepared for the storm.

"This house has gone through many hurricanes," said Florette Shaaya, 52, as she placed towels around her ground-level entrances. "We have a gas stove and plenty of matches, so we're all set."

Lifelong Manhattan Beach resident Steve Borell said he and his family were boarding up their windows, and ready for a long power outage if the storm delivered one.

"We had lots of frozen water, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, things like that," Borell said. "You can't predict what it is going to be like, but I can say that we stayed last year and everything was just fine."

Over in Broad Channel, Queens, which also has a Zone A designation, residents were also divided over whether or not to pack their bags.

Jack Sullivan, 56, an engineer and 20-year resident, said he had no immediate plans to relocate, but his Jeep was packed Sunday, and he has family waiting for him in Ozone Park if things get out of hand.

"If that full moon and high tide tonight goes together into one mixture, that's where you're going to see a real problem," Sullivan said. "I don't think it'll come to that, but I'm ready to go if it does."

His neighbor Mark Ott, 38, said while he sees the storm surges as a serious threat, he feels compelled to stay and protect his home.

"I left last year [during Hurricane Irene], and I had three feet of water in my house from a four-foot storm surge," Ott said. "Here we're looking at seven or eight feet. But I have a whole bunch of pumps. I'll try to salvage everything I can."

Like many others on the east side of Broad Channel, Ott says he can't get insurance on his ground floor home because of the high flood risks, so it's up to him to save what he can.

"If you lose stuff, you have to hope FEMA helps out and gives you some money. It's just not a chance I want to take," he said.

Other Queens residents said they were nervous about flooding, but that safety was a bigger priority. In the Rockaways, residents filled plastic bags with sand from the beaches to bring home and seal vulnerable crevices and entryways.

"I look at it a little differently than some of my neighbors," said Mike DelPino, who was packing his station wagon for his family to stay at his childhood home in Brentwood, Long Island. "Once the storm hits, there's very little you can actually do. I'd rather just be sure I'm safe."

Mayor Bloomberg's announcement that schools would be closed Monday, DelPino said, relieved some of the pressure to stick around.

"With that path cleared, we can go to the island and not worry about that," he said. "We'll come back when the coast is clear."