At least four million people are without power and nine dead in the United States in the wake of Hurricane Irene, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.
The streets of New York City remained deserted on Sunday, as public transportation remained shut down, and the storm hit with sustained winds of 65 mph, according to the Associated Press.
Thousands of flights in and out of the areas three main airports - JFK and Laguardia in New York, and Liberty in New Jersey - were cancelled, including flights to and from Israel.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Aug. 26 ordered a mandatory evacuation of coastal areas prone to flooding in advance of Hurricane Irene, including some neighborhoods that are home to large Jewish communities.
In a news conference, Bloomberg said that all residents in the evacuation areas must leave by 5 p.m. on Saturday. The areas that the mayor ordered evacuated spanned the city’s five boroughs and include heavily Jewish neighborhoods such as Brighton Beach and portions of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens.
Some 300,000 people live in the evacuation areas, which include all parts of the city that are categorized on the city’s hurricane vulnerability map as Zone A, designating the places at highest risk of flooding from a hurricane’s storm surge. In addition, the mayor’s evacuation order applied to all residents of the Rockaways, irrespective of whether one lives in Zone A.
A Rabbi Meisels who was interviewed by the Orthodox website Vos Iz Neias urged residents of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sea Gate and Coney Island to leave before the Sabbath.
“Since the time for mandatory evacuation will be on Shabbos and we won’t be able to leave then, we are telling people to go before Shabbos,” Meisels told Vos Iz Neias. “We hope that ultimately this will all have been for nothing, but we are recommending that people leave now.
Vos Iz Neias also posted halachic guidelines from the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and others for what to do on the Sabbath in the event of a hurricane. Among other things, the guidelines specify that one may leave a radio on in a room of the house that is not generally used if there is concern for safety.
The evacuation zone also included large parts of coastal Staten Island and Battery Park City in Manhattan, among other areas. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority will suspend bus, train and subway service as of noon on Saturday.
“Some of the rabbis are giving permission to leave the radio on the Sabbath. The rabbis are getting a lot of calls today,” Dov Hikind, an Orthodox New York state assemblyman from Brooklyn, told Reuters.