Andrew Cuomo on Saturday declared a state of emergency ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Henri and called out 500 National Guard troops to respond to the storm, in one of his final acts before he steps down from office Monday at midnight.
“This is as serious as a heart attack,” Cuomo said during a midday press conference of the storm, which could deal a direct blow to eastern Long Island when it hits sometime Sunday.
Cuomo noted that the relatively short warning people have gotten about Henri might catch some off guard — but he said that residents should still take it seriously as it will bring a deluge of rain, heavy winds and dangerous storm surge, even if it is downgraded to a tropical storm before making landfall.
“One of the things I’m concerned about is the people of the state have had less notice to really fully actualize what might happen here, so I hope people take this very seriously,” he said.
He said he spoke with President Biden, who agreed to sign a federal disaster declaration ahead of the storm, which sets in motion help from FEMA and other government agencies.
Cuomo backed Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s call for Fire Island residents and visitors to voluntarily evacuate, and said others living in flood-prone areas should do the same.
He repeatedly pointed to the destruction of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy as a reminder for what could happen if residents don’t heed the storm warnings and evacuate while they can.
Cuomo also took one of his signature potshots at the power companies, which in recent years have been slow to restore service in many areas following storms, particularly on Long Island.
“I have told them clearly and convincingly, in my opinion, that this is what we pay the power companies to do to be ready for storms,” Cuomo said. “We’ve seen this movie before. We don’t pay power companies to be ready to prepare power for sunny days. We pay them to prepare power, when it’s hard, and to recover quickly after a storm.”
PSEG Long Island separately said it has more than 3,300 workers preparing for the storm and additional crews will be brought in from other areas if Henri causes severe damage.
Cuomo refused to say why Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul — who will assume his office on Tuesday — was not a more visible part of the storm prep. She will likely have to take control of a difficult recovery when she takes over early Tuesday.
“I am governor today and I am in charge,” he said. “This is also something I’ve done a few times.”
He then dodged another question about the sexual abuse scandal that is driving him from office, shutting down the press conference as it turned away from the storm.