2003-10-31 / Community

Evac Planners Visit But Community Is No-Show

By Brian Magoolaghan
Evac Planners Visit But Community Is No-Show By Brian Magoolaghan

What is the New York Bight, and how could a hurricane landing in Atlantic City spell disaster for Rockaway and Broad Channel? Only about a dozen residents showed up to hear the answers to those questions and others, last week.

Storm preparedness and the local evacuation plans were discussed in-depth by the head of the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Commissioner John T. Odermatt, at Beach Channel High School.

A Yankees World Series game on television and cold weather was responsible for the poor attendance, City Councilman Joe Addabbo, Jr. speculated.

Perhaps the most important information disseminated at the meeting is that residents can call 311, or visit www.NYC.Gov/OEM, give your address, and find out what zone you live in and how to evacuate.

For those who are curious, the New York Bight is the almost 90-degree angle formed by the land of Long Island and Rockaway and the land of the Jersey Shore. The bight allows hurricanes to push more storm-surge water onto land.

The worst-case scenario for Rockaway would be a category four hurricane landing in Atlantic City during a high tide, Odermatt said, because the bight, combined with the counterclockwise winds of the storm, would push the maximum amount of water onto nearby land. But this, he said, is not likely to happen.

Odermatt also talked about the different types of storms, the instrumentation that is used to monitor and predict them, and the procedure for evacuations.

"Our evacuation strategy is not based on last-minute evacuations, it’s based on a 72-hour plan," Odermatt said.

The storm preparedness issue was recast in the spotlight because of hurricane Isabel. Congressmen Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks recently accused OEM of failing to take important action with regard to the area’s safety. In response, the agency has already installed new coastal evacuation signs.

Some residents said they felt OEM didn’t take enough action when Isabel seemed to be threatening the area, but Odermatt has said several times that his agency was tweaking the strategy in their "War Room," and even visited Rockaway when Isabel was a concern. Odermatt said his agency’s response was appropriate. Isabel, although a major N.Y. news story, amounted to little more than a few hours of higher-than-normal winds here.

A Breezy Point resident, Barney Cassidy, was not satisfied with Odermatt’s explanation. Cassidy said he would like to see coordination between his community, which has created their own plan, and OEM. He pointed out that Breezy has a single lane exit road, and is not close to a hospital.

Odermatt also addressed a question that has been asked by Addabbo and others about establishing shelters in Rockaway. "I can’t do it," he said, citing potential flooding and loss of life-sustaining utilities as the reasons.

Despite the low turnout Odermatt said OEM needed to do more community outreach, and that it would. He gave another presentation in South Ozone Park, this week.

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