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Hurricane Sandy halts construction; buildings prepare for worst

View from the Mill Building in Williamburg looking toward the East River and Manhattan Monday afternoon. Photo by Holly Dutton

By Holly Dutton

New York City shut down today (Monday) as Hurricane Sandy barreled towards the city.

Winds gusts of 80 mph caused the boom of a crane perched atop Extell Development’s luxury high-rise One57 to collapse this afternoon.

The city used Twitter to tell neighbors of the West 57th Street building to move to lower floors in their building and advised other people to avoid the area.

The Department of Buildings had announced Saturday that all construction in NYC was to be halted until further notice.

Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri ordered that “all exterior work at construction sites in New York City” suspended due to the severe weather conditions expected from Hurricane Sandy.

All previously issued construction permits for exterior work are also suspended, though it excludes work related to safeguarding construction sites or damage repair work due to the storm.

Officials urged contractors and property owners to secure their construction sites and buildings.

The department was active on twitter and Facebook, posting updates about the hurricane, even taking action following tweets to them from twitter users that construction was going on at a midtown building. “We’re investigating,” they tweeted back.

In Williamsburg, workers were seen securing a construction site on Metropolitan Avenue near Union Avenue, while property managers at the Mill Building on North 3rd Street removed barbecues, furniture and tables from the public roof area and secured them inside the building.

Workers secure a construction site on Metropolitan Avenue Near Union Avenue in Williamsburg Monday afternoon. Photo by Holly Dutton

After Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed down the city’s transit system, Manhattan’s streets were relatively quite as most people stayed at home.

The Coast Guard closed the New York Harbor and major bridges were closed as well.

At 1,000 miles wide, the storm is one of the biggest in U.S. history to make landfall. A Category 1 storm, it is moving at 28 miles an hour off the East Coast, with maximum sustained winds moving at 90 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

The danger is expected to much worse than last year’s Hurricane Irene, due to the storm’s unusual nature, being a mix of an Artic jet stream with a tropical storm, its massive size, the duration of the storm and the speed at which it is moving.

New York electric provider ConEdison held a press briefing at 1 p.m. Monday, where SVP of electric operations John Miksad said employees were working “around the clock  in preparation for widespread outages.

As of noon, Monday, just over 3,600 customers were without electrical power, mostly in Brooklyn. Company crews will work to restore power outages for as long as wind conditions remain safe to do so.

The power giant is bracing for the worst, announcing that if the storm surge reaches the predicted 10-12 feet, an entire shutdown of the underground systems in Battery Park and Coney Island will occur.

Miksad said Sandy will impact the city in two ways; from the wind and the rain, and with flooding. He added that the gas systems will be the least impacted, although scattered outages have been reported in low-lying areas of the Bronx, City Island and Governor’s Island.

ConEd has pre-emptively taken out 16 miles of steam due to potential of high tide flooding, which has already effected 140 steam customers out of the 1,700 that are supplied in Manhattan.

However, said Miksad, the largest impact will be felt in the electric system.

“This is two front war,” he said. “The wind and rain will knock down branches and trees onto overhead lines and in all likelihood large spread outages in Westchester, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.”

The provider is expecting “record size” outages from the storm, said Miksad.

“If the system in lower Manhattan and the tip of Brooklyn is impacted by saltwater, we will pre-emptively shut down the system,” he said. “That is unprecedented for us. We came close with Irene but avoided that action.”

The company has already brought in 700 crews from around the country to help minimize the impact of outages and restore power to those affected, and are in the process of obtaining more.

Customers with outages should report them to ConEd immediately by calling 1-800-75CONED.

The NYC department of Small Business Services released a guide for small business owners to prepare against potential damage and disruption to business due to Hurricane Sandy.

The guide urges owners to prepare lists of employees, customers and clients, secure insurance policies and important paperwork in waterproof and fireproof containers, back up digital records, and take inventory of all equipment, computer/software, and furniture.

Mayor Bloomberg’s office released information this morning which detailed the evacuation zones and preparations NYCHA is taking for the 26 public housing developments located in the mandatory evacuation zones.

Officials urged those living in housing developments to go to one of the city’s 76 evacuation centers, which the city provided busing to from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday. Elevators, heat and hot water were all to be shut down in the buildings Monday evening.

Last year’s Hurricane Irene largely spared NYC, but forecasters are predicting a much worse situation due to the size and unusual nature of the storm.

John Brandstetter is the managing director of the Brandstetter Group, an emergency recovery services, response planning and strategies firm.

He stressed the importance of taking action beforehand to minimize loss. “Every family in every building should have a go bag –  that they can leave in a moment’s notice,” said Brandstetter. Having insurance papers and cash on hand is “critical” and should be planned in advance, and so should building management.

Most commercial buildings in NYC are mandated to have an emergency action plan, but Brandstetter stressed the importance of having a plan for after a natural disaster.

“Every building should actually have an emergency recovery plan,” he said. “Not only should they know how to get people out of building but how to shut the building down as quickly as possible and prepare to minimize the damage of the building.”

Buildings should line up vendors beforehand that they will need to get the building back up and running, and should move elevators to higher levels in case of flooding.

The National Weather Service is predicting the storm will make landfall on the New Jersey shoreline around 8 p.m. tonight.

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