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Sandy spurs city to add evac zones

Howard Beach resident Alex Marchese surveys his destroyed boat, which floated along with the dock in the Shellbank Basin during Hurricane Sandy.
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Howard Beach, which was not evacuated during Hurricane Sandy and sustained serious damage during Hurricane Sandy, has now been put in the top evacuation zone alongside neighborhoods that were ordered to leave prior to the storm in new proposed zones released last week.

The proposed hurricane evacuation map was included in an after-action report developed by the mayor’s office detailing recommendations for storm preparedness in the wake of Sandy.

“We will take the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy and strengthen the city’s capacity to respond to future emergencies,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway, who released the report along with Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs.

The city plans to redraw the evacuation zone boundaries and add additional zones, which will be renamed Nos. 1 through 6, according to the report. Currently, there are three evacuation zones: A, B and C.

Zone A encompasses areas that are closest to the coasts and low-lying and are the most vulnerable to storms, while Zones B and C are vulnerable to severe storms, such as hurricanes that are Category 2 or above.

The zones were created using information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and take into account not only the risk of flooding but also the accessibility of neighborhoods by bridges and roads.

Howard Beach is listed as part of Zone 1 in the proposed map, which is still being finalized. Howard Beach was in Zone B, which was not ordered to evacuate during Hurricane Sandy, experienced significant flooding and extensive damage to homes and businesses during the storm.

The Rockaways and Broad Channel are currently part of Zone A and were ordered to evacuate during Sandy, although not everyone heeded the command.

The new hurricane evacuation zones are expected to be released in June and are intended to give the city more flexibility in targeting areas for evacuation in advance of a future storm, the report said.

An additional 640,000 people who did not previously live in an evacuation zone will be added to one, according to the report.

The report acknowledges that some people who lived in Zone A and were ordered to evacuate prior to Sandy chose not to leave, however. According to a city survey, 71 percent of Zone A residents heard from a public official that they were under orders to evacuate.

But those who heard the instruction were only slightly more likely to evacuate than someone who did not, at 78 percent and 68 percent , according to the survey.

“This suggests that the decision to evacuate is based on more factors than a mayoral order,” the report said. “This survey will become an important tool for refining how the city communicates with residents in evacuation zones not only prior to coastal storms, but year-round.”

Thousands of people did not evacuate during Hurricane Sandy and 11 people in Queens died because of the storm.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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