Seething, rebuilding Sandy victims march

Seventeen months to the day after superstorm Sandy struck Long Island, the citizens’ group Sandy Victims Fighting FEMA holds what is billed as a solidarity walk for those affected by the storm, on Saturday, March 29, 2014. (Credit: Steve Pfost)

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About 150 people trudged more than a mile in the rain Saturday from Island Park's Village Hall to Long Beach's boardwalk, in a solidarity walk for people who are homeless or still displaced and in need of help, 17 months to the day after superstorm Sandy.

During Long Island's "Walk a Mile in Our Shoes" 1.6-mile march, participants from all over the Island held posters and wore T-shirts to showcase the struggle of working middle-class people who pay mortgages on homes they can't occupy. The event was among other marches and rallies held Saturday in New York and New Jersey; and those coincided with a separate Sandy rebuild day in which volunteers helped fix homes damaged by the storm.

Vincent DiPalma, of Massapequa, said none of the 46 Sandy aid meetings he had attended led to "boots on the ground" until Saturday, when about a dozen volunteers from the Red Cross and the United Methodist Committee on Relief got to work installing new flooring. A new roof is next for DiPalma, who lost almost all his possessions to Sandy.

"I was on the edge, I was about to lie down on the floor and get up and leave -- I just couldn't take it any more," he said.

The retiree, who worked at the Fulton Street Fish Market in Manhattan for more than two decades, said he was hoping his Sandy-displaced neighbors soon return -- with their children, whom he enjoys seeing walking to and from school. "I'm just waiting for the children to come back; that's the life of Long Island," the grandfather said.

James Lehy, 51, a Massapequa Park cabinetmaker who was laying tiles in a mudroom, estimated the day's work would have cost DiPalma $1,600 to $2,400.

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Not all the volunteers were as proficient as the professional but they offered another plus. "You know what's great? Everybody is either good or learning and eager," he said.

About 100 volunteers also were helping four other homeowners in Long Beach and in New York City with needed repairs, said Craig Cooper, a Red Cross spokesman.The marchers in Long Beach made it clear how much remained to be done -- and what was needed. Many chanted, "What do we need? Money! When do we need it? Now!" and "Bring us home!"

Michele Mittleman, founder of the group Sandy Victims Fighting FEMA, said she's outraged that the state's NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program has disbursed only a fraction of the funds allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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"Too many people haven't gotten anything," said Mittleman, of Freeport, who rents an apartment in Westbury. "Quite frankly, it is un-American."

In the crowd, Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) urged the state to release more funds. "We don't need more promises," he said. "We need money now. We need to get home. We survived the storm, but waiting for the money is killing us."

NY Rising spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio said in a statement that the agency has authorized over $400 million to 6,300 Long Islanders.

"These critical funds will compensate families for costs they have incurred in rebuilding their homes, allow families to begin the construction process and purchase homes from families who would like to move." Brancaccio said, "We will continue to work with every applicant to provide them the assistance they are eligible for under federal rules."

But Anna Ervolina, of Long Beach, said she still hasn't received money from NY Rising despite twice going through the application process. She received $100,000 from flood insurance, but needs at least $220,000 to rebuild, she said.

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"I am paying a full mortgage, full taxes and full insurance in a house I can't live in, plus rent. It is outrageous."

With Joan Gralla

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