Island Park rally calls for more federal Sandy relief aid

Feeling neglected by the federal government and FEMA, Island Park residents held a protest walk on Saturday, calling for the allocation of more relief funds so the community can rebuild after superstorm Sandy. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Jan. 12, 2013)

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About 250 people trudged a mile Saturday in Island Park, in a protest aimed at calling on Congress to approve more federal dollars for local superstorm Sandy relief efforts.

Island Park's "Walk a Mile in Our Shoes -- Hurricane Sandy Relief" event was among eight coordinated marches and rallies held Saturday in New York and New Jersey.

The community events were held as the House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on its version of the $51 billion disaster recovery package for superstorm Sandy. So far, House members have been slow to approve the relief funds the region's leaders say are needed.

"We have our local politicians who are working their tails off for us, and Congress is not listening," said Island Park organizer Tommy Asher, 42, a former FDNY firefighter whose home and nursery school business were heavily damaged. "We have to help them help us. We have to put a face to the destruction."

An Island Park fire truck blaring its siren and Asher, carrying a large American flag on a long metal pole, led marchers down Long Beach Road, from the Ace Hardware Store Plaza to the Long Island Rail Road station next to Island Park Village Hall. Along the route, a supersized American flag hung from a fire truck ladder greeted the crowd that passed the village firehouse.

"We are here to bring to light our plight here in the village," said Island Park Mayor James Ruzicka, adding that Village Hall will probably get torn down after sustaining an estimated $1 million in damage. "We are the forgotten area. Hopefully, this walk will make Washington come to our aid and get us some help out here."

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Island Park officials distributed material that indicated the village has absorbed about $8 million in damage from Sandy, which they described as a "fraction" of the total devastation the small community has sustained.

During the march, more than a dozen commercial and public buildings displayed banners bearing a price tag with individual estimates of storm damage and rebuilding costs.

"Because of the storm, we lost everything," said Mehreen Maeem, 33, a pharmacist at Conrad's Pharmacy on Long Beach Road, which had a sign indicating it suffered $60,000 in damage. "Luckily, we are one of the businesses that has been able to reopen."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, county Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) and Hempstead Town Senior Councilman Anthony Santino took part in the demonstration. "I came to join with my fellow residents to send a message to Congress," Mangano said, "that there are people here still struggling from the effects of Sandy and we need the funds, so that the building efforts can begin."

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