Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 09 November 2012 00:00
“I thought my house was going to blow away.”
As Robert Rohan, a Massapequa waterfront homeowner was working on the monumental task of cleaning up his home after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, he spoke about the frightening feeling that his home would come apart during the storm. Rohan’s home incurred tremendous damage, as did so many homes throughout Long Island, and in particular, Nassau County. As with many Nassau residents, much of Rohan’s belongings were ruined and he is left with the task of rebuilding a home, which he no longer feels as secure in as he did just a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m not sure how steady this home still is,” he said as he assessed an air conditioner that is now useless and as he looked into the canal behind his home which is filled with debris, including the shattered remains of decks from neighboring homes, which were destroyed by the storm.
It is a scene that is devastatingly similar throughout Long Island, and particularly in waterfront areas on the north and south shores. Homeowners desperately tried to remove the water that had flooded homes by opening doors, windows, garage doors, and by using generator-powered vacuums, designed to capture water. Along curbsides, carpets, furniture, clothing, toys, and other treasured belongings were left for sanitation crews to take away. Literally, lifetimes of memories had been washed away.
The storm made landfall on Monday, October 29. Although it should have been a regular business day, anyone making their way through the heavy wind and rain realized that it was anything but an ordinary Monday. Businesses that are usually jammed with midday lunch crowds, such as All-American Hamburger were vacant. Long Island Rail Road stations, were deserted, with not a train or a commuter to be found. Schools were closed and would remain shut for more than a week. Businesses that remained opened were hard to find, although there were a few proprietors who did brave the massive storm.
“We’re here for the community,” said Diane, the owner of IGA Supermarket located on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park. She handed out free fruit to customers, in anticipation that the store would eventually lose power and all of the refrigerated produce would spoil. “It was crazy,” she said of the last minute rush from the public to stock up on supplies in advance of the storm.
On Park Boulevard, most of the other business closed down and boarded up their windows. Mike Agnone, owner of Village Wine and Spirits, was open on Monday afternoon and said business had been good.
“It’s like milk, bread, and eggs, people need their booze,” he joked, although by the middle of the afternoon, he said he was planning on closing as well.
The brunt of the storm hit the island around 7 p.m. The heavy wind and rain knocked down trees and power lines, and did tremendous damage to so many homes throughout the county. Nassau Police reported the death of a Roslyn man, who was killed from head injuries he suffered when struck by a falling tree. The man had ventured outside around 7:30 p.m. that evening, to move his vehicle.
The next morning, Sandy had left and Long Islanders were greeted by sunshine and calm weather conditions, but the clear skies also made the damage Sandy had left in its wake much more visible. Long Islanders were also left with another harsh reality, that electrical power would not be returning all that quickly. According to the Long Island Power Authority, approximately 970,000 customers had lost power, and the utility was advising its customers to prepare for outages of seven to 10 days. As of Monday, November 5, at 8 a.m., LIPA was reporting that about 270,000 customers remained without power. The utility said that 90 percent of customers should have power restored by the evening of Wednesday, November 7, although some areas, including Brookville, could expect a longer delay.
The utility had been criticized for delays in restoring power to Long Islanders following Hurricane Irene in August 2011. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo repeatedly stated in the days following the hurricane that he was closely monitoring the work of utility companies in restoring power. He sent a letter the CEOs of utility companies that operate in New York State, including Michael Hervey, chief operating officer of the Long Island Power Authority. In that letter, Cuomo said he would take appropriate action against utilities companies and their management if they did not meet their obligations to New Yorkers in this time of crisis. Although the letter was sent to all of the CEOs, Cuomo specifically mentioned LIPA.
The letter stated, “The response of your companies to this emergency will be, in great part, a function of how well you prepared for it and a testament to how seriously you view this responsibility.
If you failed to prepare, however, as evidenced by your response, it is a failure to keep your part of the bargain – a failure to keep the trust that New Yorkers have placed in you by granting you the privilege to conduct utility business in New York State; in particular, the certificates of public convenience and necessity (‘Certificate’) granted by the State under the Public Service Law. New Yorkers should not suffer because electric utilities did not reasonably prepare for this eventuality. In the context of the ongoing emergency, such a failure constitutes a breach of the public trust.
Under such circumstances, I would direct the Public Service Commission to commence a proceeding to revoke your Certificates. With respect to the Long Island Power Authority, I will make every change necessary to ensure it lives up to its public responsibility. It goes without saying that such failures would warrant the removal of the management responsible for such colossal misjudgments.”
Congressman Peter King visited some of Long Island’s hardest hit areas, including Massapequa, with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. The congressman blasted LIPA.
“LIPA’s failure to keep customers informed of the latest information on conditions and improvements is simply unacceptable,” King said in a statement. “County Executive Mangano and I have heard so many complaints from many Long Island towns and neighborhoods about the ‘arrogant’ and unhelpful attitude of so many of LIPA employees as well as LIPA’s failure to respond to legitimate inquiries from those without power.”
In addition to dealing with a shortage of power, Long Islanders would also have to deal with a shortage of gas. Many gas stations with fuel in the tanks did not have power for the pumps, while those with power had the tanks quickly emptied by anxious Long Islanders who feared the possibility of gas not being delivered for days. Where there was a gas station with both power and gas, there was sure to be a line of at least a mile.
“I’ve been here since five in the morning,” griped one customer as he waited on line at a Sunoco station on Broadway. He waited in line hoping to fill his tank as a delivery was expected around 4 p.m. that afternoon. A few weeks ago, it would seem unthinkable that drivers would be desperate to pay more than $4 per gallon to fill up their tanks, but the effects of Sandy had truly created an unusual situation. With that, also came the opportunity for price gouging.
Attorney General Schneiderman reported receiving hundreds of complaints from consumers from New York City, the Hudson Valley and Long Island. While the largest number of complaints related to increased gasoline prices, consumers contacted the Attorney General to report possible gouging for emergency supplies like generators, hotels raising rates due to “high demand,” as well as increased prices for food and water. The Attorney General noted that these complaints might not meet the threshold for coverage under New York’s gouging statute, but encouraged consumers to contact his office to report anything that appears suspicious.
“Our office is taking every complaint seriously. Staff from regional offices across the state are triaging and acting on consumer complaints as they come in. We have contacted the targets as part of a preliminary inquiry and vendors are now on notice. While most retailers understand that customers are also neighbors, and would never think of taking advantage of New Yorkers during such disruptive times, emergency circumstances always require an extra sense of vigilance,” Schneiderman said.
Attorney General Schneiderman urged New Yorkers to call his office at 800-771-7755 or log on to his office’s website, www.ag.ny.gov, to make a complaint. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano is also advising residents that they may contact the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs at 516-571-2600, to make a complaint.
According to Governor Cuomo’s website, those affected by the storm may register for FEMA assistance by calling 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585) or visiting www.DisasterAssistance.gov (or m.fema.gov from a smartphone or Web-enabled device). There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it. There is no fee for FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration property damage inspections. Those who seek assistance should be aware that government workers will never ask for a fee or payment and wear a photo ID. Residents should be cautious of middlemen who promise you will receive money, especially if they ask for an up-front payment.