The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Features

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
Features
  • dog-sunglasses.jpg Do animals have a sense of humor?

    Right now, in a high-security research lab at Northwestern University's Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, scientists are tickling rats. Their goal? To develop a pharmaceutical-grade happiness pill. But their efforts might also produce some of the best evidence yet that humor isn't something experienced exclusively by human beings.

    March 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140317-AMX-DESIGN-FOOD178.jpg Fun and beautiful maps of the world made from signature regional foods

    Food stylist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves have collaborated on a series of food-based country maps composed of signature national ingredients.

    March 19, 2014 3 Photos

  • AvengerExt.jpg Avenger an American value

    If you’re someone who appreciates the golden age of domestic sedans — those big, comfortable, heavy-feeling cars with a uniquely American sense of style — this one ought to pique your interest.

    March 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Screen shot 2014-02-27 at 4.27.26 PM.png The glitz, the glamour and the movies: 3 apps for Oscar weekend

    With the Oscars approaching, this is a weekend for movies. Download these apps, then watch a few movies, create your own and settle in for the awards show.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140218-AMX-DESIGN-HOTEL182.jpg The rise of the hotel bakery

    One of the key trends in hotel design in recent years has been a sharp focus on creating a hotel lobby that is a destination, not just a pass-through.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • How the U.S. government spends millions to get people to eat more pizza

    WASHINGTON - It all adds up to a lot of calories: On an average day, the report notes, pizza provides 6 percent of the total caloric intake for American children and 4 percent for American adults.

    February 18, 2014

  • Mazda3Int.jpg Redesigned Mazda3 among best new small cars

    Mazda must be dabbling in black magic.
    How else can you explain the fact that this relatively small Japanese company is doing what no one else in the car industry seems to have figured out? They’re building cars that get amazing gas mileage and are exhilarating to drive at the same time.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • SoulExt.jpg Soul is still stylin’

    Starting under $15,000, the Soul has always pegged its success on buyers who want a trendy, contemporary, eye-catching car without spending a ton of cash. And now that an all-new Soul is out for 2014, it shows that Kia is doubling down on this recipe of combining funky looks and an affordable price.

    February 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • 01.jpg US News names its 'Best Cars for the Money'

    WASHINGTON - U.S. News & World Report Wednesday announced its annual Best Cars for the Money list on its Best Cars website.

    February 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • You're doing it wrong: how to make better ramen

    NEW YORK — The finer points of instant ramen preparation may be up for debate, but the noodle cakes and flavor packets bequeathed to the world by Momofuku Ando are un-mess-up-able.

    February 10, 2014

House Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Featured Comment
Twitter Updates
Seasonal Content
Poll

Will you participate in March Madness?

Yes I watch the games and complete a bracket.
Yes I complete a bracket.
No
     View Results