Sharp exchanges at City Council meeting on Sandy

Damage caused by superstorm Sandy in Breezy Point. Damage caused by superstorm Sandy in Breezy Point. (Oct. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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City officials said they are doing a top-to-bottom review of their actions during superstorm Sandy but that didn't stop some pointed criticism Wednesday during a sometimes heated City Council hearing about the Bloomberg administration's handling of the storm and its aftermath.

Deputy mayor for operations Cas Holloway was peppered with complaints from council members about problems with the 911 emergency telephone system, gasoline shortages and long delays -- sometimes more than a week -- in getting help to medically frail and invalid people.

"It should have been anticipated," said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), regarding the problems city residents had in getting gasoline after the storm disrupted fuel supplies. "We can refuel Afghanistan, we can't refuel New York City, outrageous."

Holloway said the storm critically damaged the fuel delivery infrastructure, and admitted that the enormous scale of the recovery sent city agencies scrambling to meet their own fuel needs. He also said that the city didn't anticipate how long the gas shortage would last, necessitating odd-even rationing that ultimately eased lengthy lines at stations.

While council members often lauded the action of city agencies in trying to help citizens get food, heat, power and other necessities, speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said there was reported confusion about the way the significant number of volunteers were directed citywide.

The sharpest exchange was prompted by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who said that the 911 system was overwhelmed with more than 20,000 calls an hour during Sandy and wasn't reliable. She said calls were misrouted and there were delays of more than five minutes. "Can you tell me why the system failed during this major storm?" asked Crowley.

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"The system didn't fail," shot back Holloway. "I disagree with almost every underlying major premise of your question."

Holloway did say that the 911 system is one of the elements of the after-storm study that he said is expected to be presented to Mayor Michael Bloomberg by the end of February.

EMS union officials testified that poor planning and what one of them said was "inept" decision-making compromised the ability of emergency service units to carry out operations.

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Another serious problem developed with delays in city workers making visits after the storm to the homes of the chronically ill and disabled to provide them with medicine, said Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Riverdale).

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