Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Community News Network

November 16, 2012

Obama seeks to avoid Katrina comparison with Sandy response

NEW YORK — President Barack Obama on Thursday promised residents of New York and New Jersey hit by superstorm Sandy that they will get a coordinated federal, state and local effort to rebuild their devastated neighborhoods.

After touring damaged areas of the New York City boroughs of Queens and Staten Island, Obama announced he's appointing Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to lead reconstruction once the immediate relief needs are met.

"We are going to be here until the rebuilding is complete," Obama said after meeting with residents and relief workers on Staten Island, repeating a vow he made to residents of New Jersey in the days after the storm made landfall.

The storm hit Oct. 29, just before the presidential election and the federal response, spearheaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was shadowed by past disasters, particularly that which followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A sign in the bayside township of Broad Channel, Queens, last week read, "FEMA PLEASE HELP US."

The sign is similar to the pleas Katrina survivors spray- painted on plywood seven years ago during what lawmakers criticized as a slow and botched response by FEMA. Eager to avoid such comparisons, the administration has dispatched thousands of FEMA workers to canvass still-dark apartments and tell survivors about the help available to them while the agency coordinates a federal aid effort.

"No excuse is going to satisfy the person who doesn't have power or a place to stay," said Mike Byrne, who's leading FEMA's effort in New York. "We just have to get beyond the obstacles and get to the solution whatever it takes."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who joined Obama aboard Marine One for a helicopter tour over damaged areas, said earlier this week that FEMA's financial assistance "does not come close to making up" for the economic damage.

He's seeking about $30 billion in federal assistance to help the state recover. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president that the administration hadn't yet seen the specific request.

Along with Cuomo, Obama was joined on the tour by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Donovan. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Obama stopped FEMA disaster recovery center set up in the parking of New Dorp High School on Staten Island. Volunteers from around the country were helping distribute boxes of toiletries, food, blankets and cleaning supplies to about 100 local residents.

 "We got the whole country represented here," Obama said. "We're proud of you guys."

The president also toured a street where many of the homes were damaged or destroyed.

"We've got some work to do and I want you to know I'm here to do it," Obama said to a crowd outside a boarded-up church.

As Obama spoke on Staten Island, cameras were trained on microphones in New Orleans where Attorney General Eric Holder was readying to formally announce that BP Plc had agreed to pay the largest criminal fine in the country's history for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was a split-screen reminder of the lessons Obama has learned in responding to disasters and harnessing the full power of the federal government to react.

While FEMA's response to the storm generally has won praise, there have been snags. Although the agency has helped organize gasoline and diesel deliveries, fuel shortages persist.

The agency is beginning to grapple with some of the biggest problems left in the storm's wake, such as permanent housing for displaced people and debris removal.

The criticism of FEMA lacks the vitriol aimed at the agency as New Orleans residents in Katrina's aftermath endured looting, rapes, days on sun-beaten rooftops and dead bodies festering in the streets. Since then, the agency has overcome congressional calls for its dissolution and reinvented itself.

"FEMA's a very different organization than it was," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who heads the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an email. For Sandy, "it was proactive, and it didn't used to be."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a prominent Republican ally of Obama's election opponent, Mitt Romney, has lauded FEMA's attention to the state's needs and the president's response.

The destruction of Sandy, a 900-mile-wide storm, was concentrated along the New Jersey coast and the five boroughs of New York. The death toll is more than 100.

Estimated insured losses are about $20 billion, according to Charles Watson, director of research for Kinetic Analysis Corp., a risk-assessment company based in Silver Spring, Md.

While the scale of Sandy's destructiveness is far less than Katrina, which killed 1,833 people and was spread over 90,000 square miles, the storm has tested FEMA's capabilities, emergency managers said.

The experience of FEMA's leadership, including Administrator Craig Fugate, the one-time head of Florida's emergency-response agency, has contributed to that success, said Ellis M. Stanley Sr., former general manager for the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Department.

"The primary difference" with FEMA after Katrina "is leadership," he said in an e-mail. "Not only are storm victims getting assistance quicker, the survivors are better engaged."

   

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014