Sandy: Feds will pay all power restoration, transit costs

Crew members of Mississippi construction company MDR repair Crew members of Mississippi construction company MDR repair downed wires and attempt to "light up" nearby gas stations at the intersection of Route 119 and Broadway in Tarrytown. (Nov. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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The federal government has agreed to pick up 100 percent of the tab for restoring power and getting the transportation system up and running in the New York metropolitan area after Hurricane Sandy.

The immediate assistance will cover costs incurred over the next 10 days, said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Normally, FEMA picks up 75 percent of such costs; but the agency has legal authority to do more, and had been asked to do more by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Reimbursement will be limited to the counties FEMA has declared disaster areas. Two New Jersey counties -- Bergen and Somerset -- were added to the list Thursday, qualifying individuals and local governments alike for reimbursement linked to hurricane damage.

Westchester and Rockland counties are still awaiting word on whether they qualify.

On Thursday, FEMA officials toured the hurricane-damaged Rockland municipalities of Stony Point, Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw. Ramapo and Clarkstown will get visits in the coming days.

"They will see what we know to be true, that our county was severely devastated," said Ron Levine, spokesman for Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef. "We were hit very, very hard."

Levine could not put a dollar amount on the damage to Rockland.

"FEMA comes and they take things down," Levine said. "They use their own judgments and expertise to make their assessments. This is a long process, but we were very pleased that they're here."

Piermont Mayor Christopher Sanders held a town meeting Thursday morning with some 100 residents to update them on FEMA-related developments.

"The county has yet to be declared a disaster area," Sanders said. "That's the first step. We have a 15-minute tour to show them the highlights" of the destruction.

Sanders urged residents to keep close track of the money they shell out for damage.

"Put together your own documentation, photos, have these packets at the ready," Sanders told residents.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino predicted that once damage to Rye Playland and the neighboring boardwalk are factored in, the county would reach the $3.2 million damage threshold it needs to qualify for federal assistance.

"There's no doubt we're going to qualify," Astorino said.

In addition, damage assessments continue streaming in from various Westchester communities -- all of which contribute to the tally.

"It's every village, every town, every school and fire district," Astorino said.

In the meantime, the county has partnered with United Way of Westchester and Putnam to create the Westchester County Disaster Recovery Fund to assist residents who need shelter or are coping with prolonged power outages. United Way's 2-1-1 hotline has handled more than 3,000 calls from the Hudson Valley region since Sunday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is asking the feds to pick up the entire bill -- estimated to be in the billions -- for economic losses and infrastructure damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Cuomo has pegged lost revenue alone at $6 billion.

During a conference call with reporters Thursday, Fugate said it's too soon to tell whether FEMA will reimburse states and counties for the full effects of the damage to private property, transportation systems and infrastructure.

"There have been no assessments of damage," Fugate said. "We're still very much in response mode. We're not even at the point of saying what the total bill will be."

New York's U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, praised Fugate for the offer of immediate assistance but urged him in a letter to add the Hudson Valley counties to the disaster relief list.

"The Hudson Valley has been hammered with severe flooding and dangerous debris in the wake of Sandy, and Westchester and Rockland Counties have borne the brunt of the damage," Schumer said. "They deserve the same federal emergency resources that neighboring communities on Long Island and in New York City are getting, so that they can rebuild after this lethal storm."

Gillibrand agreed.

"Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction in its wake that sadly didn't spare the Hudson Valley," Gillibrand said. "We can't let anything stand in the way of our effort to begin to clean up and rebuild. Let's make this disaster declaration official and bring all necessary federal resources to bear without any delay."

Federal assistance can include low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses as well as temporary grants for housing and home repairs. There are also programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the financial aftereffects of the hurricane.

Those who have sustained losses can apply for assistance by registering at http://www.disasterassistance.gov. They can also phone 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing- and speech-impaired.

For more information on Westchester's Disaster Recovery Fund go to www.UWWP.org.

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