Feds declare health emergency in Sandy's wake

Piles of garbage can be seen all throughout

Piles of garbage can be seen all throughout the streets of Long Beach as residents begin the clean up process. (Nov. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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The federal government has declared a public health emergency for New York in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, an action that provides aid, medications and even mental-health support to regions waylaid by the cataclysmic storm.

The declaration comes as blood-supply officials are issuing an urgent appeal to Long Islanders for donations because of a need for platelets, which aid the clotting process.

Disc-shaped and sticky, platelets are vital for people with clotting disorders and also support wound-healing. The platelet shelf-life, however, is only five days and their supply in the greater metropolitan area, experts say, is dangerously low.

"Everybody has so many things to worry about in the aftermath of this storm," said Rob Purvis, vice president of the New York Blood Center in Manhattan. "But this is something that people can do -- donate blood -- and say to themselves I did something useful."

As part of the federal emergency declaration, more than 650 public health responders are being deployed in New York and New Jersey to aid residents, streamline federal and state regulations and help with health issues such as water quality, sewage and illnesses that can stem from them.

Aid is also being made available to residents having a tough time recovering emotionally from the disastrous storm.

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Anyone feeling especially burdened by storm-related anxieties is encouraged to talk to crisis support experts at the National Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990. The multilingual support service is available round-the-clock.

In a statement Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "A public health emergency exists and has existed since October 27, 2012, in the State of New York."

As a result, caches of medical supplies are being rolled out. In addition, 350 ambulances are being deployed to New York, adding to 35 already staged in New Jersey, capable of providing support in either state.

All of the ambulances were made available through the FEMA national ambulance contract, federal health officials said Thursday.

The 650 emergency responders are members of nine Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, which are made up of federal public health experts and medical professionals from eight states -- Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida.

Meanwhile, Purvis said platelets are needed over the next few days to bring supplies back to usual levels after they dwindled dramatically in recent days.

"It's storm-related. In essence, fewer people were donating and fewer of our locations were open," Purvis said.

The blood center is planning blood drives, and donors can also go to affiliated centers in Lake Success, Rockville Centre, Bohemia, Melville, Port Jefferson Station and Riverhead.

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