Hudson Valley individuals affected by superstorm Sandy have received almost $5 million in federal aid, with more than half of the relief cash going to applicants in Rockland County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Saturday.
The money is a fraction of what's been promised to local victims as devastated communities wait on Congress to pass the second of two Sandy relief packages, which contains the bulk -- $51 billion -- of the relief money.
Rockland County victims have received $2,565,842 in FEMA aid, while their counterparts in Westchester have received $1,300,865 in the 10 weeks since the storm carved a path of destruction through the area, destroying homes, riverfront communities and crucial infrastructure. FEMA provided the figures in response to a request from Newsday.
Rockland County received most of the relief money so far though it has fewer applicants than Westchester, with 3,169 applicants against Westchester's 5,487. But a higher number of applicants doesn't mean one county will receive more aid than another.
"There are cases where damage in some counties can be of a concentrated nature, whereas in neighboring counties the impact might be somewhat scattered," Nate Custer, a FEMA spokesman, told Newsday.
FEMA considers individual aid on a case-by-case basis, Custer said, which is "why FEMA puts such a high importance on the need for people to register with us. The sooner folks register, the sooner they get an inspection and become part of the recovery process."
Separately, Hudson Valley municipalities have also applied for FEMA aid.
DEVASTATION IN ROCKLAND
Rockland's share of federal aid reflects the devastation the storm visited on the county's vulnerable riverfront communities. In places like Stony Point and Piermont, homes and businesses were submerged in chest-high water, while the riverfront was littered with boats that were lifted by the storm and deposited on front lawns and streets. Some residents who lost their homes were still living in shelters two months after the storm.
"I ache for what people are going through," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in early November after touring devastated areas of Rockland County, vowing to "get as much (aid) as possible" for victims there.
After a herculean cleanup effort, Piermont's businesses and waterfront restaurants have reopened, and village Mayor Chris Sanders said those establishments were bustling on Friday night like they were before the storm. Individuals still struggled with repairs and their own insurance issues, but few signs of Sandy's devastation remain.
The biggest concerns for Piermont, Sanders said, involve looking ahead and storm-proofing for the future. Village leaders will keep a close eye on the upcoming relief package as they consult with engineers to repair damaged sea walls and consider elevating homes out of flood zones. Projects like rebuilding destroyed and damaged bulkheads will cost millions, and that's money Piermont can use.
"Now I think what we face is, how do we look to the future and minimize the damage when it happens again?" Sanders said.
On Jan. 4, lawmakers approved a $9.7 billion aid package to fund flood insurance claims in the wake of the storm. A vote on the larger, $51 billion aid package could happen as early as Jan. 15, but lawmakers have been feuding over nonstorm-related additions to the bill, including appropriations for projects in places like Alaska and Mississippi.
On Thursday, Republicans introduced their own, $17 billion recovery package, which is accompanied by a plan for spending cuts.
Although they did not escape unscathed from superstorm Sandy's wrath, people in other Hudson Valley counties did not experience the level of devastation seen in Rockland's riverfront communities or Westchester's Sound Shore area. Applicants in Orange County have received $340,959 in aid, while Ulster County applicants have received $368,292, and Putnam storm victims have received $155,746.