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STEP emergency repair program rolls out on LI

Builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers are ready to go to work on basic emergency home repairs in Suffolk Tuesday as the county starts a federally approved program that began Saturday in Nassau.

"Residents were coming up to us on the street and asking how they could enroll," general contractor Tom Datre said of the Federal Emergency Management Agency program that pays for minor repairs so homeowners can stay in their houses during long-term restoration.

The Sheltering Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program allows for work to make damaged homes habitable. The costs are split by FEMA, New York State and the counties.

Suffolk residents can schedule a damage assessment under the program by calling 211, county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Monday night. Nassau has a designated toll-free hotline for its residents: 888-684-4267.

Contractors and tradespeople have inspected more than 3,000 homes in Nassau since Saturday. FEMA last week announced the unprecedented program to allow the work in both counties to give residents with Sandy-ravaged homes the option of staying in them.

In Nassau, more than 500 homes have been deemed eligible for repair work, some of which is to begin Wednesday. About 220 residents called the hotline Monday to be added to the program, officials said.

Datre, former president of the Long Island Builders Institute, an industry organization, said making the inspections over the weekend with about 300 other men and women made him proud.

"The program went great because it was just wonderful to reach out," he said. "It was heartbreaking for our members seeing the devastation, but they felt great to be helping."

Mario Mattera, business agent for Plumbers Local Union 200, said watching the more than 150 union carpenters, electricians and plumbers go to work brought tears to his eyes.

"Everybody cares," he said. "The union delegates volunteered their time to get the paperwork done perfectly so we can all help expedite the process and get these affected homeowners their power, hot water and heat as fast as possible."

Union carpenters, plumbers and electricians agreed to work at a reduced rate to get the work done, Mattera said.

"We're Long Islanders together," he said. "Our membership knows this stuff, they probably installed the original power and heat in people's homes and now they want to help."

Ursula and Ludwig Meyer, who have been without heat in their Point Lookout home since Sandy struck on Oct. 29, learned Monday they will receive a 20-gallon water heater and three baseboard heating strips.

"It's awesome," said Ludwig Meyer, 80. "The service has been amazing. I have nothing but praise for the workers." Ursula Meyer, 76, said she was told the heat could be restored as soon as Tuesday.

Mitch Pally, chief executive of the builders institute that helped initiate the joint builder and union program, said there is "more than enough work for everybody here."

"Homeowners in Nassau and Suffolk need our help -- union and nonunion -- and they need it now," he said.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Monday visited affected homes.

"People are really struggling," he said. "The STEP program gives them a chance to stay in their own homes, put their children on the same school bus each morning and chat with their same neighbor -- it's an important part of maintaining normalcy as residents move to reclaim their neighborhood."


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