Some of that frustration boiled over Monday in the basement of a library on Long Island, where Jim Stramezzi was standing in a long line at a makeshift relief center. FEMA had rejected his claim for the flooded home he rents. The damage was supposed to be covered by his landlord’s insurance policy. It wasn’t. His renter’s insurance wouldn’t pay, either.
FEMA suggested that he apply for a Small Business Administration loan, but the SBA said Stramezzi, who is retired, wouldn’t be able to repay it. Then it was back to FEMA, but now the problem was that his daughter, who lives with her parents, had also applied for help — and two claims from the same address usually get rejected.
“You get all different answers from different people,’’ said Stramezzi, who feels that he’s “back to square one.”
Mike Byrne, a self-effacing former fire captain who is coordinating FEMA’s New York City-area response, was visiting the relief center and standing outside the Lindenhurst library. He understands the anger, he said.
His team has been working night and day — ordering home inspections, helping people get meals, water and gas for generators — and yet, “There are limits to everything,” he said.
As President Obama prepares to visit the New York City area Thursday, the federal response to the storm — which killed more than 100 people in 10 states and knocked out power to 8.5 million — is intensifying. Nearly 60 federal agencies are involved, from the Defense Department, which has flown in hundreds of vehicles to help restore power, to the Internal Revenue Service, which is helping aid groups get tax exempt status.
“The response hasn’t been perfect,” Obama said Wednesday. “But it’s been aggressive and strong and fast and robust.”
FEMA, which is leading the government’s effort, is operating more than 60 disaster recovery centers in the affected states and has sent more than 7,000 people.
“They’re doing a tremendous job, especially if you compare their response to Katrina,’’ said Bruce Lockwood, a vice president for the International Association of Emergency Managers. He said FEMA proved especially adept at “pre-positioning” supplies and people before the storm.
Still, with each passing day the federal government’s limitations become clearer. FEMA’s role is to help state and local officials, who are the first responders, and restoring power is primarily a function of private utility companies and state agencies. Even when FEMA jumped in to help on power restoration — the biggest source of tension between residents and responders — it faced problems. About 130,000 in New York and New Jersey remain without electricity.