published Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Many Superstorm Sandy victims remain in limbo

Ayanna Diego, left, watches as inspectors and contractors from the Rapid Repair program inspect the damage to her uninhabitable home in the Rockaways section of New York. Like thousands of others in New York and New Jersey still living in a hotels and motels, Diego cannot return home.
Ayanna Diego, left, watches as inspectors and contractors from the Rapid Repair program inspect the damage to her uninhabitable home in the Rockaways section of New York. Like thousands of others in New York and New Jersey still living in a hotels and motels, Diego cannot return home.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NEW YORK — Three months after Superstorm Sandy, thousands of victims in New York and New Jersey are stuck in limbo.

Some are waiting for the heat to come back on or for insurance money to come through. Others are waiting for loans to be approved.

While Congress passed a $50.5 billion emergency aid package Monday, many say the rebuilding process has been complicated over the past several weeks by bureaucracy.

Some people are still living in mold-infested homes. Others are trying to persuade the city to tear theirs down. Small businesses are shutting down in neighborhoods where nobody seems to shop anymore.

Federal officials say they understand the frustration and are working as quickly as possible to compensate people for their losses and rebuild.

“The infrastructure and the homes that were in place that Sandy took away took a lot longer than 90 days to be built up and put into place,” said Michael Byrne, who is overseeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Sandy response in New York state. “If there’s any assurances I can give folks that feel that way, we’re not leaving until we get it done.”

The Oct. 29 storm damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units and disrupted more than 265,000 businesses in New York state. About 14,000 housing units have been repaired so far through New York City’s Rapid Repairs program. In New Jersey, 346,000 housing units were destroyed or damaged, and 190,000 businesses affected. Nearly 18,000 households have received aid for repairs from FEMA.

“This is a war zone down here still,” said Donna Graziano, who has been running a 24-hour relief hub near the beach on Staten Island in a tiny white tent heated by a generator. “This looks no better than it did three months ago.”

At a glance: 3 months later, Sandy losses mount

The hurricane that merged with another weather system to form Superstorm Sandy spun ashore three months ago Tuesday, devastating coastal New Jersey and New York and spreading winds, rain, snow and waves over parts of more than 20 states. The latest tallies from the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina:

DEATHS

The toll has fluctuated as causes of death are determined or changed, but as of Tuesday, the storm was behind the deaths of at least 146 people in the United States, according to government counts. That includes at least 98 in New York and New Jersey. There were 71 additional deaths in the Caribbean.

DAMAGE AND LOSSES

Sandy damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units and disrupted more than 265,000 businesses in New York. In New Jersey, 346,000 housing units were destroyed or damaged, and 190,000 businesses affected.

Loss estimates in the affected states vary. Earlier this month, leading insurance company Munich Re Ag estimated insured losses at $25 billion and total losses at $50 billion. In December, state governments reported a total of $62 billion in damage and other losses.

FEDERAL AID

Congress on Monday passed a $50.5 billion emergency package of relief and recovery aid. Added to $9.7 billion previously approved for a federal flood insurance program, the total is roughly in line with the $60.4 billion President Barack Obama requested in December.

HOMELESS AND HEATLESS

At least 3,500 families in New York and New Jersey are still living in hotels and motels on the dime of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As winter has settled in, people who still have homes but no means to heat them have taken refuge in tents set up by aid workers.

LEGACY

Redrawn federal maps indicating flood-prone areas may force many property owners, especially in New York or New Jersey, to pay exorbitantly for flood insurance, raise their homes or move away altogether. In New Jersey, flood insurance premiums could cost as much as $31,000 a year.

In New York, a commission formed to examine ways to guard against future storms has called for flood walls in subways, water pumps at airports and sea barriers along the coast. It’s unclear whether enough money can be found for all the expensive recommendations.

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