2012-11-30 / Top Stories

LIPA, FEMA Explain Post-Sandy Process At Town Hall Meeting

By Miriam Rosenberg

Superstorm Sandy left in its wake a path of devastation on the Rockaway peninsula.

All over Rockaway, residents sat in the dark for days, if not weeks. A large number remain without power as The Wave goes to press for the first time in nearly a month.

At the same time, locals had to come to terms with what they lost and began navigating the mazes of relief agencies such as LIPA and FEMA.

To help explain those mazes Councilmember James Sanders Jr. hosted a Town Hall meeting at PS 104 on November 21. Representatives from LIPA and FEMA were there to explain the processes of their agencies and answer questions from locals.

LIPA officials told those at the meeting that all power that could safely be turned back on had been restored. Yet, the damage was so severe that, for many, it will be a while before they see their lights back on.

Despite repeated promises that LIPA officials made to the media during the aftermath of Sandy, lights did not return quickly. Bob Rowe and Tom Smith explained the process required to insure electricity was safely returned to customers.

“The system has been restored for about one week,” said Rowe, who is responsible for the restoration of the Rockaways for LIPA. “We are working closely with the city to identify those facilities that flooded and get them proper certification for the buildings department that they are safe to be re-energized.”

Approximately 10,000 of LIPAs 34,000 Rockaway customers were not flooded and had their power returned as soon as the electric company’s system on the peninsula was restored. The others, with flooded basements and fried heaters and boilers, had to wait for certification from a licensed electrician that their system was safe to be energized.

Smith, who works with Rowe, explained the extensive damages that occurred to the Rockaway system. All four substations that serve Rockaway needed repairs.

“We had to get into the substations and replace a lot of circuit breakers and a lot of monitoring equipment and remote equipment had to be repaired,” said Smith.

Smith added that the “electrical grid is a very complicated network and we had to do it safely, and we did move in a methodical way to do that.”

While the LIPA reps repeated that those who “did not have a flooding situation in their home had their power back,” Pat Carter of Beach 24 Street took issue with that. There was no flooding in Carter’s home, yet power had not yet been restored.

Rowe said that LIPA had worked with the city to identify areas that were not flooded.

“It’s possible that the inspection might have missed areas that were dry [yet] some areas around it were wet,” said Rowe, who promised an immediate check of Carter’s home and anyone else who believed that their power should already be on.

Others have been trying, without success, to reach LIPA’s customer service for help and information. While the company did not provide an alternative method of communication, Sanders did urge those residents “to get in touch with my office. Call LIPA, then call my office.”

Sanders’ Far Rockaway office can be reached at 718-471-7014.

FEMA had several representatives at the meeting to explain how the application for assistance works.

All residents were advised to apply. There are many steps to FEMA that could lead to assistance that an applicant may not have been aware of. Those applying can do so online, by phone, or in person. FEMA housing assistance includes assistance toward temporary housing, home repairs or replacement, and certain types of construction. They can also help with medical, dental, funeral or other types of needs.

Part of the process is the application for a very low interest loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA.)

“When you register with FEMA, they do an analysis of your situation. They may refer you to the SBA,” said Nicholas Hines, representing SBA Disaster Assistance.

Hines stressed that if you receive an application for a SBA loan “you need to apply for that loan.” “That is part of the [FEMA] process,” said Hines.

He added “if you don’t fill it out and turn it in, the process will stop.”

If you are not eligible or cannot afford the loan, you will be referred back to FEMA. Even if you are found to be eligible for the loan, you do not have to take it. But you must apply if you receive the application.

There are five LIPA locations around Rockaway. The main one is at Beach 108 Street, where most applications by electricians are being turned in to re-energize homes and businesses; Fort Tilden at Breezy Point; the Battalion Pentecostal Church on Beach 67 Street; and Waldbaum’s parking lot on Beach 112 Street. St. Francis de Sales Church in Belle Harbor is being used as a warming center.

According to FEMA’s website there are numerous places throughout the Rockaways to help locals. They include the Church of the Nazarene at 14-14 Central Avenue and 10-01 Beach 20 Street, both in Far Rockaway; 68-20 Rockaway Beach Boulevard; Waldbaum’s parking lot on Beach 112 Street; 209 Cross Bay Boulevard; 415 State Road in Breezy Point and Fort Tilden in Breezy Point.

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