NEW YORK — Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were told Thursday to pack a bag and prepare to be evacuated as the nation's biggest city braced for its first hurricane in decades.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered nursing homes and five hospitals in low-lying areas evacuated beginning today and said he would order 270,000 other people moved by Saturday if the storm stays on its current path.
Hurricane Irene was on track to reach the New York area by late Sunday.
"For the general public, it's a good idea to move Friday," Bloomberg said. "Keep in mind, it is possible — I don't know that I want to say likely — but it is very conceivable … that Saturday morning at 8 o'clock, we're going to say, 'Look, the forecast has not changed. The storm is still barreling down on us. It's still very dangerous. You must get out of these areas.' "
Evacuating hundreds of thousands of people would be particularly difficult in New York, where there are about 1.6 million people in Manhattan, many without cars. There are about 6.8 million in the city's other four boroughs.
Bloomberg advised residents on the southern tip of Manhattan and on Brooklyn's Coney Island to start moving items upstairs and to be ready to leave immediately. Apartment building managers e-mailed residents, telling them to close windows and expect power outages. Fliers were posted in building lobbies.
Forecasters said Irene's passing near Manhattan could lead to a nightmare scenario: shattered glass falling from skyscrapers, flooded subways and seawater coursing through the streets.
But in Lower Manhattan, few people seemed preoccupied with preparations.
"I live on the 10th floor of a 30-story building," said Sam Laury, who lives in Battery Park City. "I'm sure I'll be fine."