The agency has approved $178 million in payments to about 26,000 households in Nassau County and $30 million in Suffolk for slightly more than 5,000 homes. The Oct. 29 storm hit Nassau harder than Suffolk, flooding coastal communities, as well as some farther inland, and toppling trees that pulled down power lines.
The money, which does not have to be repaid, is available to owners or renters whose homes were damaged to the point of being uninhabitable. It can go toward renting an apartment, hotel room or mobile home, or for repairs needed "to help make a primary residence safe, sanitary and functional," said John Mills, FEMA's Long Island spokesman.
"This is not intended to make storm survivors whole again. It is a hand-up to help people get back on their feet," Mills said. "Insurance remains the first line of defense for most people."
Homeowners or renters are eligible for as much as $31,900 in grant money, depending on their situation and insurance coverage.
FEMA also has agreed to millions of dollars in grants in New York City. Residents of Queens have been approved for $134 million in aid. In Brooklyn, the amount has reached $102 million. Residents of hard-hit Staten Island have been approved for $55 million in grants.
Another $4.4 million in payments has been approved for residents of Manhattan, where floodwaters inundated low-lying areas of the city's southern tip. FEMA also approved about $1 million in grants for residents of the Bronx and $364,000 in Westchester County.
FEMA has agreed to give $206 million to New Jersey residents.
$3,100 for Island Park man
Robert Wilson, 68, of Island Park, was approved for a $3,100 grant to cover temporary housing expenses for two months. The funds have not yet been deposited in his account, he said, but he welcomed the assistance.
"We slept in the house for the first three days and we were getting to the point where we were sick," Wilson said of the days right after the storm. "The smell was unbelievable . . . the mold and the dampness. And also I think there was sewage."
He said he has moved into a house in Westbury with his son and will use the FEMA assistance to help pay the rent.
FEMA officials had no estimate of how much the grant payments could increase as more people register to seek help. Applications must be filed with FEMA by Dec. 29.
"It's comforting that it's there, because it's going to help," John Gunther, 38, of Island Park, said of the payment he will receive after faxing his apartment lease to FEMA.
The bigger issue, Gunther said, "is we have nowhere to go."
"The hotels are full, and the hotels that aren't full are charging more than FEMA will give per day as an allowance," said Gunther, who's working for a general contractor to repair or rebuild homes in his neighborhood.
Wilson also cited the lack of temporary housing. He and his son had to sign a one-year lease for the Westbury home, he said.
"When you're on a downside of a disaster, you'd like to think that people would be a little considerate, but it doesn't appear to be that way on the rental side," he said.
Long Beach homeowner Shlomo Aslan, 62, echoed the frustration.
He received a $3,000 grant, he said, "but even that money runs out quickly because a lot of hotels in the area are charging $350 to $400 a night."
FEMA visits to see damage
Aslan's waterfront home on Blackheath Road was wrecked by the storm, which tossed heavy furniture around the house and pulled power lines down into his backyard. He said FEMA inspectors went to his home for a second time on Saturday to take measurements and survey the damage.
Nassau County set up a toll-free phone number Sunday exclusively for residents who want to participate in the new Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program through which minor repairs are made so residents can live in their homes while longer-term restoration takes place. The work is paid for by the county and reimbursed by FEMA and the state.
"FEMA is eliminating red tape and working closely with the state and local officials on solutions specifically designed for Long Island . . . with the goal of getting as many people as possible back into their homes as quickly as possible," Mills said.
As of Sunday, nearly 2,000 damaged homes had been assessed in Nassau, officials said, and 418 should be eligible for the STEP program. The county has contracted with about 180 local carpenters, electricians and plumbers to make the repairs.
Joe O'Connell walked through the gutted basement of his brick bungalow in Long Beach and rattled off the rising repair costs: $8,075 for a boiler and water heater, $1,500 for an electrical panel, and thousands more to replace and paint the drywall he had to remove after almost 5 feet of water flooded his home.
A FEMA adjuster surveyed his home Sunday and he was waiting for a final figure of how much the agency would cover.
"I think they're overwhelmed, but I think everyone is overwhelmed," O'Connell said. "FEMA, the insurance companies, the residents. It's something that's going to require time."
With Laura Figueroa
FEMA HOUSING ASSISTANCE