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Friday, November 16, 2012

FEMA Responds To Accusations It ‘Abandoned’ The Rockaways

Pieces of construction equipment work on the pile of debris, collected during the cleanup from Superstorm Sandy, in the parking lot of Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaway section of the Queens borough of New York on Wednesday. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Earlier this week, we heard from Donovan Richards, chief of staff for New York City Councilman James Sanders, who said the Rockaways were abandoned by FEMA, the city and the state, after Superstorm Sandy hit.

The Rockaway Peninsula is a thin strip of land south of John F. Kennedy International Airport that protects parts of Manhattan from the Atlantic, and it was among the areas hardest hit by the storm.

Richards said it took FEMA at least ten days to show up in the Rockaways, after Sandy struck.

But Mike Karl of FEMA said he was on the ground in the Rockaways on November 2, four days after the storm hit New York.

Karl told Here & Now‘s Robin Young that FEMA worked with the city and state before, during and after the storm hit.

Responding to criticism that FEMA wasn’t doing enough to help people, Karl said that by law, FEMA can only come in and work at the request of the governor.

But Occupy Sandy volunteer Sofia Gallisa, who has been in the Rockaways helping stranded residents for two weeks, said the entire government response has been disheartening at every level.

And she said people’s lives are still at risk.

“People are dying in their apartments because they don’t have heat or power or medicine,” Gallisa said. “It’s infuriating to see this slow response and this ineptitude from the government.”

Karl said FEMA officials are in the Rockaways, going door to door, passing out pamphlets and providing information. They also have registration assistance teams in the area to help people fill out the proper paperwork to get aid.

And he said they have provided food and water to residents and to the National Guard for distribution.

But the Occupy volunteers say they are doing more than the paid federal workers.

“This is not supposed to be my job,” Gallisa said. “We are working as hard as we can, putting blood sweat and tears into it. But the love with which we are doing this work is coupled with anger at government agencies.”

Karl said FEMA has limitations, but it is helping survivors.

“We’re doing the best we can, and everyday we do a little bit more,” Karl said. “But it takes time to mobilize the right assets and the right resources to provide the maximum assistance to the disaster survivors.”

Guest:

  • Mike Karl, FEMA representative in the Rockaways.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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