By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City prepared to evacuate coastal areas and rescue stranded New Yorkers with a fleet of police boats in case the city gets socked by Hurricane Irene this weekend.
"We hope for the best but we prepare for the worst and that's why I think this city is ready for this weekend," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters on Thursday while outlining the city's hurricane preparations.
Irene, now a powerful Category 3 hurricane battering the Bahamas, was projected to move up the East Coast, possibly hitting New York late Saturday or Sunday.
Forecasters said Irene would likely weaken as it moved north and could hit Long Island to the east of New York City as a Category 2 storm.
"At this point the forecast does not indicate the storm will hit New York City with that strength but we certainly will see its effects here including tropical storm like conditions such as heavy rains and winds of 60 mph or more," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg, who was politically damaged by an insufficient city response to a blizzard in December, said the city had activated a command center at the Office of Emergency Management and that all the city's emergency response agencies had additional staff at the ready.
Police were positioning 50 launches at station houses in low-lying areas and the police department's Special Operations Division had another 33 boats plus several helicopters ready to rescue New Yorkers if needed, Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg was prepared to order mandatory evacuations from low-lying areas if needed, but "only in the worst of circumstances." He said the city might need decide on evacuations some time on Friday, depending on the speed and track of the storm.
City hospitals have tested emergency generators and filled their fuel tanks while ensuring they have adequate medical supplies in case deliveries were cut off, Bloomberg said.
Heavy equipment was being moved to high ground and catch basins for storm water were being cleared of debris ahead of time to prevent flooding, Bloomberg said.
The city was doubling its outreach for homeless people, to be ready to move them quickly into shelters, and a city program for homebound elderly would delivery extra meals, the mayor said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Mark Egan and Jackie Frank)