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Cuomo: Sandy damage cost $33B in state

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to members

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of the media about recovering efforts after superstorm Sandy in Long Beach, New York. (Oct. 31, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Economic loss and wreckage of homes, businesses and property caused by superstorm Sandy on the East Coast may total $50 billion, with $33 billion of that in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

"That is a staggering number, especially with the financial situation that we've been in," Cuomo said, referring to the state's recent multibillion-dollar deficits.

The estimate would make Sandy the second most expensive storm in the nation's history, behind Hurricane Katrina, the massive system that hammered the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and swamped New Orleans in August 2005, killing more than 1,800 people.

A damage-forecasting firm previously estimated that Sandy may have caused $30 billion to $50 billion in economic losses from the Carolinas to Maine, including property damage, lost business and extra living expenses.

Thursday came word that the storm-ravaged landscape in New York and New Jersey soon will have something else in common with Katrina: the use of government-supplied trailers as housing for those whose homes have been severely damaged or destroyed.

The manufactured housing, assigned to victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and referred to as "FEMA trailers," normally is used for about 18 months after a storm.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said "several hundred" units of the manufactured housing, much like mobile homes, are being transported to New York and New Jersey, with the goal being "to keep people in those communities." He said he did not have specific locations of where the trailers will go.

FEMA had approved $61.7 million in grant money to households -- homeowners and renters -- in Nassau County and $14.7 million to households in Suffolk as of late Wednesday. The total amount of FEMA assistance approved so far for households in the nine affected counties in New York is $212.4 million, spokesman William Rukeyser said.

In Nassau County, Comptroller George Maragos Thursday estimated Sandy caused a loss of $750 million in economic activity in the first two weeks since it hit Oct. 29. And County Executive Edward Mangano announced he has pushed back the payment deadline for property taxes from Nov. 10 to Dec. 1 to ease the burden on residents.

As estimates of financial fallout mounted, weary Island residents bore the brunt of another day marked by lack of power and fuel: electricity for homes and businesses, and gas for vehicles and generators.

More than 200,000 Long Island Power Authority customers did not have power, with lingering outages from Sandy compounded by Wednesday night's snow-laden nor'easter. Officials also announced imposition of an "odd-even" rationing system based on motorists' license plates, as a way of managing a persistent gasoline shortage.

Cuomo, who for days has sounded a steady drumbeat of criticism against LIPA, called for an overhaul of the utility that he said has "failed the consumers."

"They're this nameless, faceless bureaucracy that is a monopoly that operates with very little incentive or sanction," Cuomo said at a news conference.

The number of customers without electricity, a record 945,000 of 1.2 million right after Sandy struck 10 days ago, was down to about 150,000 Wednesday before the nor'easter knocked out power to at least 60,000 more.

Outages spiked to 262,384 customers by Thursday afternoon, although LIPA said the number included those previously removed from the list from the Rockaway Peninsula to Long Beach, where devastation left many homes unable to accept electrical service.

LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey has responded to criticisms of the utility by saying he is focused on restoring power from the worst outage in Long Island's history, and not on trading barbs with politicians.

But the utility also took heat from the Island's two county executives, who announced that they persuaded LIPA to scrap its blanket policy, announced earlier this week, requiring thousands of Sandy-affected homeowners to get new electrical evaluations before their power could be turned back on.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said LIPA's plan would mean many residents in homes that were not flood-damaged could remain without heat or power "into the next year" as they waited for everyone around them, including homes more severely affected, to receive certificates of inspection.

Instead, Nassau and Suffolk counties, in an effort to more quickly resume service to homes, will place workers at LIPA substations and more closely assess each neighborhood. Houses and businesses that sustained severe flooding still must obtain inspections.

"Get the power back," Bellone said to applause at a news conference at Babylon Town Hall with other elected officials from the devastated South Shore. "People are suffering right now and this cannot go on."

The region's transportation system continued to make strides toward normalcy, though the nor'easter snarled Wednesday's evening rush on the roads and the rails and shut down airports.

For the first time since Sandy hit, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel is to reopen this morning, Cuomo said.

The Long Island Rail Road, after shutting down the whole system and closing Penn Station during the nor'easter because of downed trees and damaged equipment, resumed limited service Thursday morning on 10 of its 11 branches. There were scattered delays of 15 to 20 minutes.

Long Beach, which managed to get its sewage system operating late last week after Sandy knocked it out, saw it go out of commission again Thursday. City officials said it was expected to restart this morning.

For residents battered by two storms in two weeks, one bright spot -- finally -- was the weather forecast. Beginning Friday and through the long Veterans Day weekend, temperatures are expected to be in the high 50s to mid-60s, with sun and mostly clear skies, the National Weather Service said.

"After what we've been through, most people will view it as nice and pleasant," said Pat Maloit, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Upton.

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