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Bloomberg names Brad Gair as housing recovery chief as new storm looms

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg updates the

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg updates the media on the city's Sandy recovery efforts in this photo provided by the mayor's office. (Nov. 22, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

With temperatures near freezing and thousands displaced by superstorm Sandy, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put a former federal emergency official in charge of the city's housing response, just as a new storm threatened to bring gale-force winds, rain and coastal flooding.

For the second time in little over a week, with 1.4 million homes and businesses in seven states still without power and damage and debris widespread, evacuations are again being considered, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

"The really damaged communities have a lower threshold to sustain damage from this storm and should have a lower threshold for evacuation," the 54-year-old Democrat said. "Take evacuation orders seriously, please, please, please." Cuomo said he ordered insurers to accept homeowners' photos and videos of damage, rather than wait for an on-site inspection by a claims adjuster, so debris can be cleared before the new storm turns it into projectiles, he said. "Dangerously fragile" homes may have to be destroyed, he said.

In New York City, Bloomberg said thousands of people, at least half of them living in public housing, may need shelter as power remains out in many areas. The mayor, who on Nov. 4 estimated the number might be as high as 40,000, said Monday that was a worst-case scenario. "I think it's down," he said, perhaps to "something less" than 10,000.

About 35,000 people in 174 New York City Housing Authority buildings still need heat and hot water, Bloomberg said.

Recovery Officer

The mayor named Brad Gair, 52, who served as recovery officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the Sept. 11 attacks, as director of housing-recovery operations. The mayor also appointed four directors to serve as the primary points of contact for residents, community groups and elected officials in the hardest-hit communities.

"When we get down to the hard core of real problems, when there is no quick, easy, inexpensive fix, that's when we're really going to be challenged," the mayor said Monday in a news briefing at Public School 195 in Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn.

"I've put in place people to ensure that that doesn't happen, because that's my great fear." The National Weather Service said the new storm may bring wind gusts of as much as 60 miles per hour and drive a tidal surge up to four feet above normal.

Coastal Flooding

New Jersey's coast is likely to experience "moderate" flooding, Gary Szatkowski, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said in a written briefing Monday. The storm is also likely to cause moderate to severe beach erosion, he said.

Sandy, the biggest Atlantic storm in history, raked the region with winds of as much as 100 miles an hour. Its tidal surge of more than 13 feet inundated transit tunnels and underground utilities, destroyed homes and chewed away natural barriers such as beaches.

In the first day of classes since Oct. 26, about 94 percent of New York City schools were open Monday. About 86 percent of pupils in the nation's largest public school district attended, the mayor said at a briefing in Brooklyn.

While most of the city's subway lines were running Monday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's website, traffic jams and congested transit plagued many morning commutes.

NJ Transit "is still several weeks away from full service restoration," according to a statement. Additional buses, temporary park-and-ride facilities and ferries were offered to help fill the gap after the destruction of 80 percent of its infrastructure, the service said.

$150 Taxis

The loss of public transit created costs and aggravations for commuters such as Sarah Konecny, 25. Her North Coast train commute from her home in Woodbridge, New Jersey, to her job managing Greene Street, a shop in Red Bank, normally takes 30 minutes and costs $14, she said. Konecny said she's spending $150 round-trip to take taxis that arrive hours after she calls.

"I'm paying $150 a day but I have to get back to work," she said as she folded a shirt and counted inventory at the store Monday. "I've just been taking cabs every day since Friday. That's the only way to get here." People displaced from their homes faced more hardships.

Francisco Sanchez, 34, is sleeping at a New York City shelter at John Jay High School in Brooklyn's Park Slope. A tree fell on the house in Bushwick where he lived with his girlfriend, Jessie Perez, in a one-bedroom basement apartment for which they paid $175 a week. When he returned to the house, they found the basement was flooded and their clothes ruined with a mixture of water, mud and sewage.

Sanchez works as a book binder, making schoolbooks. It doesn't pay well, he said.

No Money

"I'm tight with cash," he said in a coffee shop across the street from the shelter, and he paid his last month's rent in advance, $700 he wished he had now. "Me and my girlfriend ain't got no place to live." He says the shelter won't let unmarried couples stay together. "The next step for us, we be in the street," he said.

While many privately owned apartment buildings and residences have sprung back to life, public housing, such as the Red Hook Houses near Brooklyn's waterfront, are still in shambles.

Carolyn Bonilla held back sobs as she descended an unlit, garbage-strewn staircase there. Housing Authority crews pumped out the basement with a small hose. Every time they emptied it, the basement filled again with groundwater from the saturated soil. Bonilla said she'd had enough of life on the 12th floor without power or running water.

'Decent People'

"I can't do this no more," said Bonilla, 44, a cosmetics saleswoman at Macy's. "We are decent people, we are working people. I am being treated like an animal. I have no water, no lights. I have nothing." Across the bay in New Jersey, about 765,000 homes and businesses remained without power Monday, said Mary Goepfert, a spokeswoman for the Office of Emergency Management. That's after Sandy blacked out 2.7 million, or more than half the state.

Shelters housed 5,048 people.

At Belmar Borough Hall, where residents can pick up meals and clothes and charge their mobile phones, Jennifer Haverstick, 56, perused the offerings of packaged cheese tortellini and beef stew.

"It's like Boy Scout camping," she said.

Gov. Chris Christie said he will "continue to use my type of gentle persuasion" to prod utilities. "It's not going to mean a damned thing to you unless your power's on -- I get it," Christie, 50, told reporters in Hoboken Monday.

Flooded Out

Annabelle Banks returned to her home of four decades in Ventnor City, on a barrier island south of Atlantic City, to find flood waters had ripped through the first floor. She's staying in a hotel arranged by the FEMA for the next seven days.

"This is really all I have in life at this point," said Banks, 67. "I am going to try to hold on, but it's going to be a long fix." More than 234,000 storm victims have registered for assistance and more than $210 million in aide has been approved, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan said Monday in a statement. About 34,000 New York and New Jersey residents have been judged eligible for lodging in hotels and motels, he said.

Slow Restoration

The new storm may slow power restoration, said John Miksad, senior vice president of electric operations at Consolidated Edison Inc. About 950,000 Con Ed customers lost power. About 115,000 in New York City remained without electricity at midday Monday, most in hardest-hit Staten Island, South Brooklyn and the Rockaways neighborhood in Queens, Bloomberg said.

On Long Island, about 211,000 customers were without power, down from 970,000, according to the Long Island Power Authority's website. The utility said it expects that 90 percent of customers will have power by tomorrow.

The arrival of colder weather with so many residents still blacked out "is the next big problem for us," said Bloomberg, who is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Emergency workers were distributing blankets along with food and water, and police patrols used loudspeakers to urge people to go where they could be warm and safe, he said. The Salvation Army is assisting recovery efforts from shelters and mobile feeding canteens throughout the East Coast.

Election Changes

Preparing for the presidential election Tuesday, the city Elections Board announced the relocation of 60 flood-damaged polling places to new sites, affecting some 143,000 registered voters.

Free shuttle buses will operate on State Island, in Coney Island and in the Rockaways to take voters to the alternative polls, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Monday in a statement.

"Will there be some hardships to get to the polls? Yes," Cuomo said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Compared with what people have been dealing with the last week, the hardship they'll have at the polls is nothing."

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