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Sandy recovery chief says aid must be 'immediate and ongoing'

November 17, 2012|By Joseph Serna
  • Waves break around a roller coaster destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J.
Waves break around a roller coaster destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in Seaside… (Mario Tama/Getty Images )

Shaun Donovan, point man for allocating federal dollars toward Northeastern states recovering from SuperstormSandy, has made his first visit to the region in his new role.

Donovan, 46, was chosen by President Obama on Thursday to work with the leaders of New York, New Jersey and other states in the region who will rely on federal assistance to help them rebuild in the wake of the country’s second costliest natural disaster.

PHOTOS: Superstorm Sandy

In addition to serving as head of the department of Housing and Urban Development, Donovan is a native New Yorker who led the country’s biggest affordable housing and construction initiative in his home state before moving to HUD in 2009.

On Friday, Donovan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with New Jersey residents and lawmakers to discuss the state’s rebuilding.

“After meeting with families and officials here in New Jersey, I am more convinced than ever that we must continue to provide immediate and ongoing support to those whose lives have been so disrupted,” Donovan said in a statement. “But the recovery must also look to the future, and encourage the kinds of investment and redevelopment that will help communities rebuild stronger, smarter and more resiliently.”

In the days after Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, more than 8 million people lost power. Homes were washed away, electrical fires destroyed entire neighborhoods and thousands were displaced. More than 110 people in the U.S. from the storm.

INTERACTIVE: Before and after Sandy

Since the waters receded, most of the region’s infrastructure has rebooted. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved more than $600 million toward housing assistance and other needs for victims, but the agency is designed mostly for immediate recovery, not rebuilding, Obama said Thursday.

That’s where Donovan is expected to step in. He is charged with allocating resources for the states’ rebuilding plans and implementing those plans. He’ll have to do this while keeping the Federal Housing Authority’s finances afloat.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week the storm exposed serious vulnerabilities in New York’s fuel and electrical delivery systems. Several New Jersey and New York oil terminals and one refinery remain closed.

FULL COVERAGE: East Coast hit by deadly storm

More than 30,000 New Yorkers on Long Island are entering their third week without electricity. The equipment in their homes to receive power has been damage or destroyed, requiring utility workers to inspect and replace it house by house before power can be restored.

The problem is no less severe in New Jersey, where 35,000 in the Barrier Islands and Atlantic City also need door-to-door service before they can have power turned back on.

Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York's Cuomo promised residents that the power companies would be held accountable for their shortcomings in preparing for and reacting to the storm.

Cuomo announced Tuesday he was creating a 10-member commission to investigate utility companies’ handling of Sandy. On Wednesday, New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed Consolidated Edison and the Long Island Power Authority, seeking records of how they handled the storm.

Schneiderman’s inquiry is separate from the commission. He is investigating if the companies cut corners to save money and if that led to unsafe or unreliable service, an official familiar with the investigation told the Los Angeles Times.

More than 414,000 people in the region have registered for FEMA assistance. The agency has begun shipping mobile homes to the region ahead of state requests for housing assistance.

In the latest effort to expedite the region’s recovery, Obama declared disasters for three counties in Delaware late Friday.

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @josephserna

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