Volunteers and disaster victims have taken rescue, recovery and security into their own hands on New York’s storm-ravaged borough of Staten Island, where they say FEMA has forgotten them.
Already without power for more than a week in the wake of superstorm Sandy, hard-hit residents of the borough’s South Shore braved a nor’easter Wednesday night, many — perhaps hundreds — huddling in condemned homes and ignoring orders to evacuate out of fear looters would take what little Mother Nature has left them.
“FEMA packed up everything yesterday and left the area,” said MaryLou Wong, whose home in the Midland Beach neighborhood was destroyed. “They haven’t come back.”
“FEMA packed up everything yesterday and left the area.”
– MaryLou Wong, Staten Island resident
Punch-drunk residents’ ire is also aimed at the city — which is going door-to-door to order people out of their homes — at the American Red Cross, which some say has not done enough and at police and firefighters. One group of residents, calling themselves the “Brown Cross,” is patrolling the devastated streets, armed with walkie-talkies, and helping residents clear debris and pump water from their flooded homes. The group started with a dozen men, and has swollen to more than 100.
“We’re basically giving the people of the neighborhood organization,” Frank Recce, the 24-year-old longshoreman and Iraq Army veteran who organized the group, told FoxNews.com. “We were able to hit more than 200 houses by Monday. We’ve done more for our community than FEMA, the Red Cross and the National Guard combined, directly hitting houses and people in need.”
Last week, when President Obama toured the New Jersey and New York coastal areas hit hard by Sandy, he vowed to get help to the victims quickly.
“No bureaucracy. No red tape,” Obama vowed.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the storm could cost the state $33 billion.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the agency is helping, and urged people to go to www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).
“FEMA is part of a big team on the response and recovery to Sandy, and we continue to closely coordinate with our partners in and outside of government,” Fugate said.
But it didn’t sit right with many that FEMA, citing the weather, closed temporary shelters as the nor’easter bore down on the borough — just when people needed them most. The agency was to open a pair of mobile disaster recovery centers at noon, after opening two earlier on Thursday. They had been closed Tuesday at 6 p.m. due to safety concerns in advance of the nor’easter that hit the borough.
“Locations are being opened back up and damage is being assessed,” Fugate said during a conference call on Thursday.
As of Thursday morning, more than 4,000 people were without power on Staten Island. Hundreds were staying in temporary shelters, where many complained they were treated like prisoners — given curfews and rationed food.
“It’s gotten pretty unbearable. People are sleeping on floors. The shelter wasn’t prepared,” Edwin Mansour, a Staten Island resident who has taken refuge at Bailey Seton Hospital since he lost his home during Sandy, told FoxNews.com. “Now [they’re] locking us in, trying to turn this place into a homeless shelter. They’ve been giving us curfews. We have plenty of food but they are hoarding it in another part of the building, only handing a little bit out,” he added.
Many more victims — likely hundreds — chose to ride out the nor’easter in homes deemed unsafe out of fear that looters could strike and take whatever they have left.
“The big unknown is how many people are remaining in their homes, homes that are essentially uninhabitable, people who, by Friday or next week, when the weather gets colder and the rains come, are going to come to the realization that they can no longer stay where they are,” state Sen. Andrew Lanza told the Staten Island Advance.
The city Buildings Department was going door to door in Staten Island’s hard-hit neighborhoods and posting color-coded placards on homes to notify residents if they could go back in.
“In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, our inspectors have been canvassing the City, inspecting affected buildings and tagging them with green, yellow or red placards based on their condition,” said Ryan Fitzgibbon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings. “This is part of our rapid assessment process to conduct as many initial inspections as quickly as possible and provide New Yorkers with information on the status of their buildings.”
Green and yellow placards signify the home is safe to re-enter, but for homes with red placards, the city advises residents to “hire a New York State-licensed professional (Registered Architect or Professional Engineer) to file plans with the department and a hire a contractor to make the necessary repairs.
Hiring an architect was not on the immediate horizon for residents who were simply trying to survive. Those who didn’t guard their homes went to shelters, and even huddled together on buses as the second storm, dubbed Athena, dumped nearly half-a-foot of snow.