Slow pace of recovery from Hurricane Sandy fuels frustration and anger

November 2, 2012

The slow pace of recovery from Hurricane Sandy generated frustration and anger across the New York region Friday as residents struggled with shortages of fuel, enduring power outages and a sense among those in the city’s outer boroughs that their suffering was being overlooked.

In Staten Island, where 19 people have died as a result of the storm, more than in any other New York City borough, exasperation at the lack of city, state and federal assistance mixed with bitterness and despair.

“I don’t see the Corps of Engineers,” Jim Brennan, a retired New York firefighter, said as he stepped over fragments of boat hulls and other debris blown onto his seafront lawn. “No National Guard. No Red Cross. No FEMA. No [New York Department of Environmental Protection]. No garbage trucks. American flags are flying all over this neighborhood. Where is our government?”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) canceled Sunday’s running of the New York City Marathon, yielding to critics who said it was insensitive to host a sporting event while authorities were still pulling the dead from the storm’s wreckage.

“While life in much of our city is getting back to normal, for New Yorkers that have lost loved ones, the storm left a wound that I think will never heal,” Bloomberg told reporters earlier Friday. “For those that lost homes or businesses, recovery will be long and difficult.”

The city’s death toll rose to 41, part of a nationwide tally of about 100 storm-related deaths. Fourteen occurred in New Jersey, where the storm devastated coastal barrier islands and flooded densely populated urban areas.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) said that carbon monoxide poisoning, a result of the inexperienced use of power generators, accounted for two of his city’s three fatalities and that the rate of carbon monoxide emergencies was “skyrocketing.”

Booker said that up to half of Newark’s residents have power but that the challenges posed by the storm’s destructiveness are proving difficult to address.

“The need is so vast,” he said. “There are a lot of stories of hardship that have not been told. We are definitely going to continue to uncover things.”

Across the Eastern Seaboard, communities were coming to terms with devastation that delivered an unprecedented punch to the region’s economy, causing more than an estimated $50 billion in losses and forcing hundreds of thousands to rebuild their lives.

With countless drivers unable to find gas to power vehicles and generators, the Obama administration announced Friday that the Defense Logistics Agency would buy up to 22 million gallons of fuel that would be delivered to affected communities throughout the New York region. Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered gasoline rationing in 12 counties starting at noon Saturday.

Bloomberg said his city was showing many signs of returning to normal, vowing that most of the 460,000 homes and business without out electricity would have it restored by midnight Friday. Subway systems in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens were gradually coming back into service, and most of the city’s more than 1 million public school students were expected to return to class Monday.

But the mayor was also forced to defend his handling of the recovery, following complaints by residents of public housing complexes that they had not received relief supplies. Bloomberg said that the National Guard, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army were operating 13 food-distribution centers in hard-hit neighborhoods.

Bloomberg spent part of the day surveying the wreckage of communities in southern Brooklyn, including Coney Island and Sea Gate, where homes were torn to pieces by the coastal surge. He also offered condolences to Damian Moore, a city worker from Staten Island whose two children, Brandon, 2, and Connor, 4, were “swept away from their mother’s arms by the forces of Sandy’s storm surge” while their father was helping the city respond to the storm. “It just breaks your heart to even think about it,” the mayor said.

In the Staten Island neighborhood of Great Kills, dozens of boats sat untouched, blocking roads, leaning against houses, tangled up in overhead wires, jumbled together on empty lots as if they had been tossed into a child’s toy box. Residents looked dazed as they dragged out mattresses, drywall, refrigerators and clothing, creating soggy, mildewy piles in front of their homes. Neighbors served homemade soup from the back of sport-utility vehicles.

Many said their neighbors have been the only source of aid.

“People will walk by and say, ‘I’m so sorry. Do you need help? Can I get you a cup of coffee?’ ” said Victor Lorenzo, 45, an electrician whose home was swamped by the water Sandy blew ashore. “I’ve seen people pick up wedding pictures and old photos, and go looking for the people they belong to.”

Anthony Danna, 49, also an electrician, was pointing out the high-water mark on his house, with brown algae still clinging to the side about 10 feet from the ground, when two neighborhood children walked up bearing pizza boxes.

“Would you like a cupcake?” said Bridget O’Brien, 11, opening a box to show the chocolate and vanilla confections she had baked with her cousin Sean McKenna, also 11.

Farther north, along Father Capodanno Boulevard, Joseph Anthony Verdino and John Calabrese spread hot dogs, chicken, clothing and towels on a folding table set up on the side of the road. The offerings kept growing larger, not smaller, as residents drove past and made donations.

“When I’m eating breakfast in a heated house, how could I sit there so comfortable when my neighbors are in need,” said Jacqueline Mannino, 28, who brought several bags of clothing.

Kim Joyce, whose rented bungalow has three sides shredded or gone, said someone from the Federal Emergency Management Agency stopped by Thursday but was only empowered to search for bodies, not to offer help to survivors.

Joyce, 41, a food and beverage manager whose nine cats were carried away when a giant wave pummeled them, cried when she spoke about what she had lost and then quickly apologized for her tears.

“Where’s the Red Cross? Where’s FEMA? Where’s anybody? Maybe they’re other places,” she said, “but they’re not here. Somebody please get here and help us.”

A large Consolidated Edison truck was parked at a park entrance Friday afternoon, holding bags of dry ice that workers passed out to all comers.

Frank Abenante, a retired IT technician for Con Ed, picked up a couple of bags to keep his food from spoiling. But he said he only knew about the free dry ice by word of mouth, because many residents lacked the electricity to watch television or power their cellphones.

“We feel very disconnected,” he said.

Brennan, the firefighter, paid a private contractor to bulldoze the mud away from the street in front of his home.

“I’m doing the government’s job with my own money,” he yelled over the sound of the bulldozer scraping against pavement.

In Brooklyn, shortages of fuel continued to bedevil workers and others seeking the means to commute or move around. Would-be drivers wandered the street with red gas canisters in search of an open gas station. The few stations that did have fuel rationed it to two gallons and barred cars from entering the station, requiring motorists to stand in line with a container.

“I’ve been looking for gas since 6:30 this morning,” said Mike Cuevas, 45, who trudged along Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue past a BP station with cardboard placards announcing “no gas.”

The mood was in some ways less tense than the previous day, when commuters fought for a place in line at crowded stations. Charles Diop, 49, who was hunting for a gas station to fill his stalled car, said he was angry Thursday. “Now I’m trying to calm down,” he said. “My situation is not the worst. Some of my co-workers lost their homes.”

Carol Morello is the diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, covering the State Department.
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