Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 09 November 2012 00:00
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 The St. James on Second Street, 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.
Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss and village reps were holding conferences and meetings with all departments, prepping for the storm. He even said no amount of planning could prevent the issues hitting Long Island.
“This has got to be one of the worst storm we have ever had,” said Strauss. “We had planning meetings, phone conferences on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the storm hit between the department of public works, the village clerk, the board of trustees.”
Village Hall lost power as soon as Sandy hit Mineola. The village operated out of the water department building, with clerical staff manning phones at the Mineola Fire Department headquarters.
“They worked through the night answering phones,” Strauss said. “It’s personally important to me that a phone gets answered in a time of crisis. When somebody calls the government, they should be getting a person on the phone, not a voicemail.”
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.
“There are senior citizens that are without power and it’s November 6 and it’s cold,” said Strauss. “We set up a charging station at the community center and we turned it into a warming station.”
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.
Furthermore, with Mineola powerless after the storm, the MFD passed out fliers with important village updates along with the traditional popcorn balls to parents on Halloween.
“The village DPW workers did a tremendous job cleaning up the debris,” Strauss said. “The fire department, I can’t tell you how many calls they handled during and after the storm. The auxiliary police, MVAC, everybody came through.”
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 big downfall is some of our residents are still out of power,” Strauss stated. “I’ve been on the phone twice a day with LIPA. They assure us that 90 percent of the residents and their customers will be up and running [by November 7]. I think that’s an aggressive number.”
“We had all the crews, plus we had contracted crews with cranes in to help out with the clean up,” Mineola Public Works Superintendent Tom Rini said. “On [Oct. 27, we were out until 11 p.m. at night. At that point, I think we had taken down about 40 trees during the storm until it got to a point where we couldn’t be out there any longer.”
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.”
“I haven’t seen storm damage this bad in my lifetime here on Long Island,” said Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. “It’s time to restore power and make our roads, transit and drinking water safe as quickly as possible so that residents and businesses can resume their lives as soon as possible. I’m in close contact with federal, state and local officials and am committed to helping make sure that government agencies and utilities like LIPA waste no time in the recovery effort.”
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.
Attorney General Eric 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.
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.Dis-asterAssistance.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 would 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.