2005-09-23 / Editorial/Opinion

Seeking A Rational Evacuation Plan

It should be clear to even the most optimistic observer that there will be very little chance of evacuating the Rockaway peninsula once a category three or above hurricane hits. If Katrina taught us any lessons at all, Rockaway residents should understand that there are two imperatives involved: the first is that the time to get away from the peninsula is a day or two before the hurricane hits. The second is that our frail population, senior citizens, people in nursing homes, people in hospitals, need the government to do special and explicit planning now – not in the wake of the storm. In 1938, what would now be called a category three hurricane hit Long Island and New England. That storm produced a 17-foot storm surge over Rockaway and most of the South Shore of Long Island. Nearly 9,000 buildings were destroyed and 63,000 residents were left homeless by the storm’s 50-foot waves and 186 mile-an-hour sustained winds. If that happened today, the water could reach 20 feet high across the peninsula and range all the way to the Belt Parkway. A daunting thought, but something we have to deal with in a realistic way. What to do? First of all, dunes help. Environmentalists call for the construction of 20-foot dunes at the back of the beach. Perhaps 20 feet is too high for comfort, but smaller dunes certainly would help. When Katrina ripped across Florida, their beach dunes saved many communities. Why our city destroys the natural dunes we have in the name of “beach grooming” has always been beyond our understanding, but perhaps the city should now begin to plan for man-made dunes throughout the peninsula. We have recently spoken with emergency management specialists who know Rockaway. They told us that we must start now to plan for a future storm by doing a number of simple things. First, we have to find out how many senior citizens we have on the peninsula and where they are located so that they can be evacuated prior to the storm. We then have to plan to remove those senior citizens and hospital-bound residents to other hospitals and evacuee centers. An outreach program is needed to provide information to the bulk of residents who have their own transportation to convince them to leave early. Once the storm begins, all roads off the peninsula will be both flooded and gridlocked. Where can we go? Schools in central and northern Queens can be safe havens. Queens College. The five high schools surrounding Forest Hills. Elementary and middle schools in that same area. All of them can serve as relocations centers. Each should be stocked well in advance with the necessities of life: water, meals ready to eat, cots, blankets, generators, etc. We can survive the storm with some common sense and planning. The time to begin, however, is now. It may already be too late.

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