Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Preparing for Satmar grand rebbe's death

Three levels of law enforcement are choreographing how to manage the traffic that will inundate the Monroe-Woodbury area when the Satmar grand rebbe dies and tens of thousands of mourners pour into Kiryas Joel for a funeral and burial.

The 91-year-old spiritual leader has made a surprising recovery since he fell unconscious at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan last week. But his grave illness forced state, county and local authorities in Orange County to renew preparations for the expected crowds - a production that their New York City counterparts reportedly have dubbed "Operation Sundown."

The state police, who are coordinating the response in Orange County, won't release details of the plans, such as whether any roads outside of Kiryas Joel will be closed or how many troopers from other places will assist those based in Monroe.

Capt. Michael Cahill of Troop F headquarters in Middletown said yesterday that law enforcement has been developing plans for nine months to a year, focusing on traffic control.

Road updates will be posted on message boards on Route 17, he said. But he warned drivers to steer clear of that road and New York State Thruway (I-87) once the throngs of mourners descend upon southern Orange.

"This is all going to happen very quickly," Cahill said. "Avoid 87 and 17. I don't recommend anyone come to be a spectator."

Woodbury police will direct traffic at Nininger Road and Route 32, the first possible choke point for traffic pouring toward Kiryas Joel from the Thruway. They will also patrol part of Highland Mills to keep traffic flowing on Ridge Road and Seven Springs Road.

"Our ultimate goal is to keep everything open," Woodbury police Chief Robert Kwiatkowski said.

Orange County officials plan to monitor the event from their Emergency Operations Center, a basement bunker they normally occupy during disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

Walt Koury, the county's emergency services commissioner, said yesterday that he's concerned that gridlock in Monroe-Woodbury might prevent first responders from getting to their firehouses and ambulance garages to respond to calls.

Monroe and Woodbury fire chiefs, anticipating that problem, said their crews might man their stations ahead of time so they won't have to fight traffic to get to them in emergencies.

Monroe-Woodbury School District could cancel classes or dismiss school early, depending on when the mourners are expected to come. In one planning scenario, the district would bus some students to Pine Tree Elementary - out of the main traffic zone - to be picked up by their parents.


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