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Tampa Bay mayors come to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's defense over handling of Hurricane Irene

8:43 PM, Aug 29, 2011   |    comments
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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

St. Petersburg, Florida -- Although a deadly storm,  Irene packed less of a punch than a lot of people thought it would.

Still, today, critics peppered New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with questions about whether his massive, mandatory evacuation order was really necessary.

Photo Gallery: Hurricane Irene hits the U.S.

Political leaders in the Bay area say airing on the side of caution was the right thing to do.

As Irene pounded the northeast and millions watched the storm's path, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was admittedly watching something additional.

Buckhorn says he was watching how his political counterparts were handling themselves: how they spoke, how they handled staffing, and knowing someday, it could very well be him issuing similar orders.

"As mayors and elected officials, we all learn from each other. And we particularly learn from each other's mistakes," said Buckhorn.

Mistakes like the ones made in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

But this time, following Irene, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been questioned for ordering evacuations that some now feel were unnecessary. With more than 30 deaths attributed to the storm, Bloomberg issued a terse response to his critics.

"You know they should just look in the mirror today," he said, "They're alive today - whether because if it - or in spite of it."

While politicians would prefer to be safe than sorry, they also run the risk that with too many false alarms, some people may ignore future mandatory evacuation orders. That could have devastating consequences.

"The only time you're going to really get the bad backlash is if you didn't act and people get hurt," said St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.

Foster says he also supports Bloomberg's decision.

Although St. Petersburg takes its evacuation cues from Pinellas County, Foster knows it's the mayor that people look to for accountability.

He also knows that making such decisions can create tremendous hardship for the elderly, the sick and disabled. And it can cost a lot of money to mobilize.

"We have to open up places for people to go. We have people with special needs. Pets. There's some low-lying nursing homes that have to be evacuated," said Foster, "So it's not made haste, and it's not made without an abundance of caution for public safety."

Foster and Buckhorn say it's only a matter of time before similar decisions have to be made in the Bay area. The second-guessing they can take. The loss of life, they could not.

"Inconveniencing people is very different from having to bury them," said Mayor Buckhorn.

"The fact that people are alive and can complain? I'll take that any day," added Mayor Foster. 

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