As the one-year anniversary of Sandy approaches, New York City officials on Tuesday acknowledged that many residents are still waiting for financial aid to rebuild their damaged homes but said the city's infrastructure has been strengthened for future storms.
About 24,000 families have signed up for the city's Build-It-Back program, which will help pay for repairs, elevate their homes and reimburse them for repairs that have already completed, among other things. But many still haven't received any money nearly a year after the storm.
"There's no question that we would like the process to move faster," said Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway. "We're sorry that it's not finished yet."
About 12,000 families are considered "priority one," meaning they fall into the lowest income bracket of those who have applied for help and had homes that were the most severely damaged. They are the only people who have received a check so far.
Officials did not specify how much money has been distributed.
Because the federal government has only released the first tranche — about $700 million — of the roughly $60 billion package of storm recovery aid approved by Congress, city officials say they still don't know how much money they'll be able to distribute to storm victims.
"We've made it clear to HUD that we need a lot more," Holloway said.
Holloway could not say how many people had not yet reoccupied their homes since the storm.
Among many post-Sandy infrastructure projects, about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand have been dumped on beaches on Staten Island, Coney Island and the Rockaway peninsula to fortify the shore, Holloway said.
All of the 103 public schools that closed during the storm are reoccupied, although 45 of them are embarking on long-term repair work. The city is working with FEMA to secure funding for hospitals that were damaged during the storm.
To prepare for the next major storm, the city has doubled the number of its mobile fuel trucks, purchased about 14 additional safety boats and 35 generators and invested in about 100 inverters that can be used to power traffic lights during an outage.
"We've replenished and expanded our stockpiles," Holloway said. "We've redone all of the evacuation zones using the most up to date flood data and information."
To help encourage evacuation during the next natural disaster, about 1.4 million pamphlets describing evacuation plans have recently been mailed to all New Yorkers who live in the flood plain. Officials are also reviewing all its emergency shelters — which are overwhelmingly located in public schools — to determine which ones were able to stay open longest and did not disrupt other city activities. The city is also pursuing new food contracts to provide better-tasting meals for people who are forced to stay in shelters for extended periods of time.
Many elderly and disabled people were stranded without power or food for days after the storm. To address this issue, the city has created a catalog of its case management systems for people who receive medical assistance. Sortable by address, the catalog will provide detailed information about where these people live and how to reach them quickly during an emergency.