1 Week Later, Thousands Still Without Power, Displaced from Homes

Tuesday, Nov 6, 2012  |  Updated 7:01 AM EDT
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Extreme Weather 2012

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Kiva Kahl pours hot tea for neighbor Buddy Sammis,right, after she prepared it on a wood-stoked fire and cooking setup she and her fiance created in the street in front of their house on Beach 91st Street in the Rockaways.

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One week after Sandy slammed the tri-state, displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes, the city isn't ruling out any options for housing storm refugees, including hotel rooms or cash for people to make their own arrangements.

Mayor Bloomberg on Monday announced he has appointed a former OEM and FEMA official to come up with a plan.

Bloomberg said 30,000 to 40,000 New Yorkers may need to be relocated — a monumental task in a city where housing is scarce and expensive — though he said that number would probably drop to 20,000 within a couple of weeks as power is restored in more places.

Brad Gair, a former OEM deputy commissioner and federal coordinating officer from FEMA, will coordinate the plan to relocate them.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita smashed the Gulf Coast in 2005, hundreds of thousands of victims were put up by FEMA in trailers, hotels, cruise ships and apartments across several states for months and even years.

Gair said his first objective is to figure out the demand -- who needs help and how long will they need it. The next order of business, he said, is to find the solution. The range of options is "very wide," from hotels to cash from the federal government for people to secure their own housing.

"Everything will be on the table to start," he said.

Power has been restored to nearly 87 percent of customers who were blacked out in the storm in New York, but efforts to get everyone back on line could be hampered by more wet, windy weather on the way this week.

As temperatures sink into the 30s at night, Bloomberg said residents in public housing are a top concern; some 21,000 people have no electricity and 35,000 have no heat and hot water.

Across New York City, about 127,000 customers were still without power, down from an estimated 960,000 initially affected. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo railed against the utility companies tasked with bringing power back to communities hit hard by Superstorm Sandy.

At an afternoon news conference, he said that saying he was "angry, frustrated, disappointed would be the understatement of the decade."

He said it is understandable that getting the power back on takes time. However, he said the utilities were not communicating with residents who were depending on them to get their lives back to normal.

Meanwhile Monday, commuters streaming into New York City endured long waits and packed trains.

Trains were so crowded Monday on the Long Island Rail Road that dozens of people missed their trains. With PATH trains between New Jersey and Manhattan still out, lines for the ferry in Jersey City quickly stretched to several hundred people by daybreak. And NJ Transit shut down its North Jersey Coast Line after overcrowding.

One commuter in line pleaded into his cellphone, "Can I please work from home? This is outrageous," but many more took the complicated commute as just another challenge after a difficult week.

"There's not much we can do. We'll get there whatever time we can, and our jobs have to understand. It's better late than absent," said Louis Holmes of Bayonne, as he waited to board a ferry in Jersey City to his job as a security guard at the Sept. 11 memorial site.

The good news in New York City was that, unlike last week, service on key subway lines connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn under the East River has been restored. But officials warned that other water-logged tunnels still weren't ready for Monday's rush hour and that fewer-than-normal trains were running — a recipe for a difficult commute.

Bloomberg took the subway to work Monday. He was joined by many of the students returning to class in the nation's largest school system. About 94 percent of the 1,700 schools reopened for the first time since Sandy hit last Monday, and attendance was at 86 percent, the mayor said.

"You don't really realize how important a routine is until you're out of one," said 17-year-old Anna Riley-Shepard of the Upper West Side as she waited for her yellow school bus to her private school in the Bronx.

Repair crews have been laboring around-the-clock in response to the worst natural disaster in the transit system's 108-year history, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said Sunday.

"We are in uncharted territory with bringing this system back because of the amount of damage and saltwater in our system," Lhota said. "It's an old system ... and it's just had a major accident."

World Trade Center steam fitter Scott Sire got to Manhattan on time, at 6:05 a.m. off a regular Academy bus that took him from home in Hazlet, N.J. in 40 minutes. He normally takes a PATH train, but it's not running.

"Every day gets a little bit better," said the 49-year-old worker. "But we had a setback last night; we lost power, again, after a transformer blew — and the Cowboys lost, just after our lights went out!"

The MTA planned to take the unusual step of using flatbed trucks to deliver 20 subway cars to the hard-hit Far Rockaway section of Queens and set up a temporary shuttle line.

Sandy, which killed more than 70 people in the tri-state, also created a fuel shortage that has forced New Jersey to enforce odd-even rationing for motorists. But there was no rationing in New York City, where the search for gas became a maddening scavenger hunt in recent days.

Bloomberg said a police officer has been posted at each gas station open in the city to keep the peace.

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