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911 Call System Overloaded As City Urges People to Stay Off the Roads

By Jill Colvin | October 29, 2012 9:23pm

OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT — Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents Monday night to stop making non-emergency calls to the city's overloaded 911 system and pleaded with drivers to stay off the road as Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York with historic flooding and violent winds.

The mayor said the 911 system was currently fielding about 10,000 calls per half hour when it typically only gets 1,000 calls. Many of those calls were non-emergencies, with residents reporting downed trees or small floods.

"Please, please, please, do not call 911 if it is not a life-threatening emergency," he said at a 10 p.m. press conference. "You are putting other people's lives at risk by occupying the lines."

Bloomberg also exhorted drivers to stay off the road because too many cars were getting stuck and hindering emergency responses.

"Many of blocking emergency vehicles from getting to people in need," he said. "We need to keep the roads clear."

City officials have also told taxi and limousine drivers to get off the roads immediately.

Photos captured by residents across Lower Manhattan show storm surges 2 and 3 feet high, and much of the city has been blanketed in darkness due to widespread power failures and precautionary outages.

"At the Battery, we have seen record surge levels. We're seeing an extraordinary amount of water throughout lower Manhattan," Bloomberg said.

Officials expects gale-force winds to subside in the next few hours. The storm surge is expected recede by midnight, with low tide at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Even before the brunt of the storm hit, Queens was logging 10 times its normal 911 call volume, as thousands called in to report flooding and downed trees, officials said.

Hurricane Sandy has been described by officials as the most powerful and dangerous storm in the city's modern history.

"These are not games. We've said from the very beginning, it's a once in a longtime storm," Bloomberg said.