Hauling away debris from Sandy is a "public health emergency" that local officials need to take care of before Wednesday's expected powerful nor'easter, state officials said Monday.
Many residents put their destroyed belongings on the front lawns to prove to insurers they were damaged, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told reporters Monday. The state issued a directive to insurance companies to accept photographs, videos and a list of inventory as proof of loss, Cuomo said.
Residents should put the debris where it can be picked up, Cuomo said, adding that the carting costs will be reimbursed by FEMA.
"Often the entire contents of a home, furniture, clothes, bedding, food . . . are in front of the house," he said. "We believe this is a public health emergency. We don't want the amount of debris that is now in the streets and in the yards to get caught up in the [coming] storm."
The cold nor'easter, with sustained winds of up to 40 mph, will likely hit Long Island Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said. A coastal flood watch has also been issued, and rain of 1 to 2 inches, possibly 3 in some spots, is likely, the Upton-based service said.
It's a second punch to Long Islanders without power, heat and time to salvage their belongings. Long Island hospitals have reported an influx of patients who have colds or can't get their prescription medications.
Officials from Brookhaven and Hempstead, the Island's two largest towns, said they were unaware of the governor's directive, but they've worked aggressively since Sandy hit to clear debris from roadways and other public areas.
All roads in Brookhaven are now clear of any trees, branches or other brush, said town spokesman Jack Krieger, and town workers began collecting other storm debris curbside. Ensuring that all debris had been collected, however, would be a tall order, he said. Some debris removal would be up to LIPA or other utility companies to handle, he said.
"That's a pretty difficult thing to do," Krieger said. "We're in the process of doing it. As far as the town goes, we've been very progressive in getting our roads clear and as much debris from the sides of the roads as we can."
In Nassau County, where the mandatory evacuation order for coastal areas still remains, County Executive Edward Mangano urged people struggling to get by in homes without power to watch for public notices as the storm approaches and go to friends' homes and shelters if necessary.
Officials worry especially about the barrier islands, including Fire Island, which normally protect the mainland coasts from wind and tide. But they've been breached by Sandy, and forecasters fear the nor'easter's storm surges of up to 41/2 feet will wash away more of the protective beaches.
Teams have been piling up sand to protect "vulnerable areas," including Ocean Parkway and the Robert Moses traffic circle, both eroded by Sandy, said George Gorman, deputy regional director on Long Island for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
At the 16 hospitals in the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, there's also been an increase in patients who can't get prescription refills or who are running out of supplemental oxygen, said Dr. John D'Angelo, senior vice president for emergency services.