Batten down the hatches

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At the time of this writing, Hurricane Bertha – the first hurricane of the 2008 season – was packing 90-mile-per-hour winds and bearing down on Bermuda.

It’s been 70 years since a hurricane actually struck our area, but experts warn that hurricanes are a lot like slumping baseball players – at some point they’re due for a hit.

Last week, Manhattan Beach residents gathered at P.S. 195 on Irwin Street received the sobering facts about hurricanes and just how vulnerable they are if and when one finally blows into town.

According to Robert Crow of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, a hurricane slamming Atlantic City, New Jersey with counter-clockwise winds raking the ground in its wake would actually constitute the worst case for Manhattan Beach and surrounding areas, bringing storm surges, structural damage, flooding and water contamination.

“You better evacuate, unless you have scuba gear,” the hurricane specialist warned.

New York City has room for 600,000 people in its network of emergency centers and shelters in the event of a hurricane. The problem is, officials expect three million evacuees when the big one hits.

That’s why residents are advised to seek shelter with friends or relatives living outside the evacuation area.

Of course, half of Brooklyn would become an evacuation zone in the face of a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.

New York City is now classified as the third-most hurricane vulnerable city in the nation.

Manhattan Beach’s designated evacuation site is I.S. 187, the Christa McAuliffe School at 1171 65th Street in Bay Ridge.

Last month, OEM held a mock hurricane drill there as part of the city’s Coastal Storm Plan. Over 115 city employees manned the shelter in preparation for 500 evacuees.

Officials warn that residents living in flood plane areas like Manhattan Beach should hit the road at the first hint of danger because if you’re still home 36 hours away from an impending hurricane, it’s probably already too late.

That’s why area folks are urged to think about how they’ll evacuate in an emergency.

How quickly can you secure your home? Do you have a “go-bag” ready? How about an out-of-state contact?

Officials say everyone’s go-bag should contain things like important documents, cash, medication, batteries and a flashlight.

Water and toilet paper will be premium items if you end up at a shelter.

If you voluntarily decide or have no other choice then to “shelter in place,” officials advise residents to store at least one gallon of water per person in the household for three days.

According to Crow, a hurricane striking New York City is a “virtual certainty.”

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