Race to find housing for Sandy victims as new storm approaches

Thousands homeless as cold bites and more wind and rain approaches

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 3:27am

With power slowly returning to New York and New Jersey and emergency fuel being rushed into the region, authorities have a potentially bigger problem in the wake of superstorm Sandy - where to house the tens of thousands of people whose homes are no longer habitable.

With a freeze expected in some areas yesterday and another, smaller storm on the horizon, the housing problem took on urgency.

Even with power and fuel restored, many houses no longer have functioning heating systems, since floodwater ruined many basement heaters and electrical systems.

"People are in homes that are uninhabitable," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. "It's going to be increasingly clear that they're uninhabitable when the temperature drops and the heat doesn't come on." Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, appearing at a news conference with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, called housing "the No 1 concern".

She said: "We don't even know yet which of the houses are reparable and which are irreparable losses. Those assessments are going on right now as well as finding temporary housing for individuals who can't move back to their home right away."

New York City alone estimated that about 20,000 people would be left homeless there. Long Island and seaside New Jersey accounted for many more.

"It's unreal what's going on here," said Pinny Dembitzer, president of the Sea Gate Association in a hard-hit seaside neighbourhood in Brooklyn.

As many as 25 homes in the private community were lost to the storm, and about half of the remaining 825 or so were badly damaged, Dembitzer said. The 3,000 families in the neighbourhood, many of them Orthodox Jews, struggled with the mud.

Construction crews, sanitation workers and volunteers worked around the clock to move rubble from basements as temperatures dipped.

Hundreds of volunteers, most from outside the community, handed out hot food, blankets and clothes to help people prepare for the cold snap. Residents were shaken by reports of a storm that could hit the region as soon as tomorrow.

Chanie Fettman gasped when her husband, Moishe Yosef Fettman, whispered in her ear about the approaching wind and rain.

"I can kiss the tiles of my roof goodbye," Moishe Fettman said. The family got through Sandy safely but their basement was flooded, ruining cherished belongings.

Forecasters said the new storm could bring rain, snow, more flooding and 90km/h winds to areas shattered by Sandy. At least 110 people died, most in New York and New Jersey, when the massive storm struck last Monday.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised schools would reopen this week even if children had to be taken by bus to different buildings. "Our kids have not had school for a week, and this is damaging them for the longer term," he said.

Christie said 800 of New Jersey's 2,400 schools were scheduled to open yesterday.