“There’s nothing more important than us getting this right.” President Barack Obama on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts
(NEW YORK) MintPress – Just six days before the general election, Obama took time out from his campaign to tour storm-ravaged areas of New Jersey with Gov. Chris Christie.
But in neighboring New York, where more than 285,000 homes and businesses remain without power, the scene has been dramatically different. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that the response to the storm revealed deep flaws in the structure and regulation of power utilities that he called virtual monopolies run by nameless and faceless bureaucrats.
“The utility system we have was designed for a different time and for a different place,” Cuomo told a news conference. “It is a 1950s system. … They have failed the consumers. The management has failed the consumers.”
But later that day, some members of a panel set up by the legislature to oversee the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) took the governor to task for not previously having taken a more active role in the state-run utility.
“The governor needs to take responsibility,” said Matthew Cordaro, co-chair of the Suffolk County Legislature’s LIPA Oversight Committee. “He has not appointed the CEO for two years,” he noted, adding that LIPA reports directly to the governor.
The New York Times meanwhile chastised the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In an editorial published on Thursday, the paper said, “For all the efforts of federal, state and local officials to help people after Hurricane Sandy, unacceptable pockets of suffering remain. Ten days after the hurricane struck, thousands of people in New York City’s public housing are still without heat, water, electricity or food.”
It continued, “Many people needed assistance after the storm, but the most vulnerable of the city’s inhabitants seem to be among the last in line to get it.”
Indeed, Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society, told MintPress News in an interview on Friday that thousands of families and individuals in public housing units closest to the city’s shoreline — mostly in the Rockaways, Coney Island and Red Hook — are still without heat, hot water or electricity.
“The New York City Housing Authority before the storm was a troubled agency,” he reveals. “After the storm, it is clearly having problems addressing the needs of its tenants.”
Public housing crisis
The NYHCA for its part says on its website that it “is working to restore power, heat and hot water to developments currently without service due to the storm.
“During the past week NYCHA has returned heat and hot water to many buildings across the city and is working with the utility companies and other government agencies to restore these essential services to every NYCHA resident as quickly as possible,” it continues.
But it goes on to acknowledge that “currently there are 71 buildings in 11 developments in Brooklyn (Coney Island, Gowanus and Red Hook) and Far Rockaway, Queens housing approximately 13,000 people where electricity is still out.”
It also reveals that “currently there are 114 buildings throughout 17 developments affecting around 21,000 residents without heat.”
“It is unacceptable that our clients have been given notices that the power is out indefinitely,” Banks tells MintPress. “A government agency like that has to have a more immediate response to these compelling and pressing human needs.”
Whatever the exact numbers, too many people are in dire straits.
In the Far Rockaways on Wednesday, hundreds lined up for as much as three hours in the cold to get hot food promised by a makeshift delegation of volunteers.
And in a public housing building in Red Hook, residents received official notices warning that “Since Hurricane Sandy, the electricity and water will be out indefinitely.”
Local TV station WPIX painted a similarly grim picture of Coney Island. “Help is sorely needed. Much of Coney Island, for example, continues to be in the dark and in the cold,” it reported.
One victim told a reporter, “We feel like we’re last on the list out here. We’re at the end zone. Lack of resources, I can’t even find blankets, nothing!”
Said another, “It’s a catastrophe. Me and my three kids inside that house — nobody’s came to ask us if we needed any help or anything. It’s pitch black dark, it’s filled with water. Nobody came to ask us if we needed any food or anything like that. We just was, like, deserted.”
“We still don’t have no light, no water. We don’t have nothing over there,” said a woman in Spanish. “I have a lot of children who are very hungry. They need milk and water.”
In nearby Sheepshead Bay, several seniors have reportedly been stranded for days. And WPIX found dozens of people there filling out applications at a Legal Aid Society truck, where volunteers and lawmakers were trying to get people who are on public assistance the help they need.
Too little too late
On Thursday, Bloomberg said he hoped that private contractors would be able to restore electricity by the weekend and heat “sometime early next week.”
This is hardly what those without their basic services were hoping to hear. “There seems to be no clear answer for why it has taken so long to send out temporary generators and boilers to help these residents,” chided The New York Times. “To us, that sounds late and insufficient. Mr. Bloomberg needs to redouble his efforts to help those most in need.”
To those who will remain in the dark and cold for days, wondering how long they will have to endure these conditions, it sounds like a living hell.
“Families and individuals are in extreme circumstances. It is already a tragedy and our concern is that it could get worse if tough action is not taken,” cautions Banks.