7,900 in Westchester, Rockland seeking FEMA aid

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, second from left, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, second from left, talks with FEMA and Small Business Administration officials before a news conference at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. (Dec. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

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About 7,900 Westchester County and Rockland County residents have asked for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency since Hurricane Sandy struck the Hudson Valley, officials said Wednesday.

Speaking at separate news conferences in White Plains and New City, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef laid out the tally of applicants and other data on the region's recovery nearly six weeks after the monster storm left five dead and damages running into the hundreds of millions of dollars in the area.

About 5,000 Westchester County residents and 2,900 Rockland residents have applied for FEMA compensation, the officials said. FEMA has disbursed $2.1 million to Rockland residents, Vanderhoef said. Westchester County officials are still compiling their aid figures.

Noting that the deadline for applications for FEMA funds is Dec. 31, Astorino and Vanderhoef urged residents to be proactive, checking with insurance companies and compiling the information they need in case they want to ask for help from the agency.

Vanderhoef seemed to suggest that applicants who have been rejected should reassess their applications.

"Anybody who's received a letter saying they're ineligible really ought to make sure they read it very carefully to make sure, somehow in there, there isn't a piece of information missing that in fact could be helpful," Vanderhoef said.

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Astorino and Vanderhoef spoke as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan urged Congress to approve a special appropriation of storm-related aid for New York State and the region.

Donovan's comments came two days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo journeyed to Washington to meet with White House officials and members of Congress to lobby for his request of $42 billion in special aid.

Cuomo has asked Congress to appropriate $527.8 million to help fund the recovery and repairs in Westchester County and $143.7 million for Rockland.

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Staging a news conference Wednesday in Albany, Cuomo said the aid is critical.

"The first question is going to be, 'Do we get anything from the federal government?' And if so, how much?" Cuomo said. "We have not even begun to cross the bridge of 'If you don't get enough from the federal government, what do you do to generate the revenue to pay for the storm?' "

In Westchester County, families continued to mourn the deaths of two North Salem boys and a Yonkers man, Astorino said at his news conference. He said county workers are still repairing Rye Playland and other facilities, removing hundreds of downed trees, assessing property damage along the Hudson River and Long Island Sound, and working with utility companies to avoid a repeat of the power outages that crippled the region.

"It dealt an enormous blow to every corner of our county," Astorino said.

Four homes in Verplank and Croton-on-Hudson were destroyed in the storm, said the county executive. Flooding and fallen trees damaged more than 200 homes throughout the county. Coastal flooding damaged more than 50 businesses in Irvington, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Rye and Yonkers. And a total of 300,000 utility customers lost power.

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In Westchester, county-owned properties incurred $48 million worth of damage, Astorino said. He said that Rye Playland suffered $12 million in damages and that other county parks had an additional $12 million in damages.

"The ice casino was trashed and the north boardwalk was obliterated," said Astorino, adding that the public amusement park would reopen in May.

Astorino said that county wastewater treatment plants will require $12.65 million in repairs.

The county executive has said Sandy cost the county $100 million in damages, including an overtime tab for emergency personnel. He cautioned that those numbers likely will rise as the recovery continues. FEMA is expected to compensate the county for at least 75 percent of the funding. The state is expected to contribute an additional 12.5 percent.

Astorino, a Republican, said he would help lobby Washington leaders, if necessary, to obtain the funding. "If it helps that I speak with [House] Speaker [John] Boehner and other Republicans in Congress, then I would do that," he said.

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FEMA's Disaster Recovery Center at the Westchester County Center in White Plains is slated to close Dec. 21. Rockland's center, at Provident Bank Park in Pomona, is scheduled to close Friday. But FEMA representatives will be available at the Fire Training Center in Pomona to help people until the end of the year. Residents also can apply online or call 800-621-3362 to seek assistance.

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