Hundreds of Long Islanders, storm-weary and some dressed in all they had, waited in line clutching paperwork Friday at Federal Emergency Management Agency centers in the hope of getting assistance to help restart their lives, devastated by superstorm Sandy.
A line of about 50 people, some in pajamas and slippers, waited to apply and speak to FEMA representatives via a landline telephone bank set up by officials. They needed cash assistance to pay for housing. Some peppered officials with questions about what assistance they're entitled to beyond their insurance.
John Gunther, 37, of Island Park, and his fiancee, Stephanie Refvem, and their 1-year-old son, Michael, waited an hour in line at the FEMA recovery center at NCC Friday.
The family had been staying at a shelter since Tuesday night, when they fled their apartment in Gunther's parents' home. The home Friday was filled with 4 feet of water and without power.
"I've lost all my pictures; everything from my childhood is gone," Gunther said, holding his sleeping son in his arms. "In 25 years, we've never had water in our house. We were totally unprepared for this."
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a briefing with reporters that 85,072 storm victims in the areas affected by Sandy had registered for FEMA assistance as of Friday. A total of $18,815,347 in assistance had been dispersed, Fugate said.
Assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said that additional mobile FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers would be coming to county neighborhoods, and dedicated business recovery centers up and running, coordinated with the Nassau Industrial Development Authority.
A mobile FEMA Disaster Recovery Center is to open in the parking lot at Southold Town Hall, 53095 Main Rd., on Monday and Tuesday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to the town's website.
It took Leticia Correa, 39, also of Island Park, two hours to complete her FEMA registration. When it was over, Correa couldn't help but focus on her immediate needs.
"I asked the woman, 'What about now? What about now?' " Correa said. "We don't have clothes, we have nowhere to go. There's nothing in the area, and I'm not going back to my house to get my heart broken again."
Lindenhurst residents filed into the rear parking lot of the Bower Elementary School Friday to register for federal assistance. By 7 a.m., a line had formed. FEMA had set up a phone bank and computers with Internet connections, but the Internet service was spotty.
On Thursday, 102 people registered, and FEMA officials said they expected more than that Friday.
Lindenhurst resident Michele Insinga, 50, said she was waiting to register for assistance with cleaning her home, which took in about 4 inches of water on the first floor.
She said she feels luckier than many, such as those who lost their entire homes. She was waiting to talk to FEMA officials about any information they could give her.
"Information is so hard to get because of the lack of cell service," Insinga said, adding that she had to drive three miles from home and waste precious gas just to get a signal.
Helen Cosmides, 57, who has lived south of Montauk Highway for 23 years in Lindenhurst, said she had nearly 2 feet of water in her home and no power or heat.
Her garage was washed away, and her oil burner was submerged. "I was driving by and saw that FEMA was here and said, 'Let's stop,' " she said.
Frank Delany, 53, who also lives south of Montauk Highway, said he had 4 feet of water in his house and wants to stay and rebuild. He doesn't have flood insurance. "We're definitely staying put," Delany said, adding that he was hopeful that FEMA could assist him "as fast as possible."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said help with rebuilding was on the way from the state and federal government. On Friday, he announced that state government had set up a $100 million fund dedicated to help the victims of Sandy with home repairs.
Cuomo said a homeowner's first line of defense is private insurance, followed by the federal government through FEMA money, and finally state housing programs. "We will be deploying 30 joint teams in the region, between the state and the federal government through FEMA," he said. He said the joint teams will have one expert from the insurance industry and FEMA state housing programs.
They'll be assembled next week and dispatched to the affected communities."Homeowners can come to them and say this is my situation, this is my home, this is the damage, this is the insurance I have, this is what I need," Cuomo said. "These experts will help them put together whatever plan they need, whatever paperwork, whatever bureaucracy that needs to be overcome."