Sandy: New York neighbourhood 'forgotten'

2012-11-03 14:01

New York - Returning to the house where she has lived for more than a decade, Colleen Jablonski sobbed as she trudged through a smelly layer of mud and scooped up soiled old family photographs.

Like many of her neighbours in New York City's southern borough of Staten Island, she and her family hauled out to the curb most of her worldly possessions - furniture, clothes, a television - all destroyed by superstorm Sandy.

Her tears turned to anger as she and her husband spoke of how officials handled Sandy, which killed nearly 100 people in the eastern United States and knocked out power to millions after barrelling down on Monday.

"The response? What response? This is old-school politics. If you've got connections, they come to you, but otherwise they don't," said her husband Anthony as he offered choice words about Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On leafy residential streets clogged with piles of collapsed shelves and at least one cracked set of decorative pink flamingos, volunteers went door to door handing out homemade pancakes and set up stations to serve free pizza, coffee and pasta in tomato sauce, heated from a portable generator.

"People are coming out to help and even offering to cook. My son's third grade teacher sent $200 in case we needed help. I couldn't believe it -I was so touched," said Darren Bennett.

Always forgotten

But many residents resent what they see as a lack of government attention to Staten Island, the least densely populated of New York City's five boroughs that has a suburban feel far removed from the hustle of Manhattan.

Susan Kenney helped clear out the devastated basement of a friend, who said she survived the storm by standing atop bricks outside clutching her three children and two dogs through waist-high water.

"We're always the forgotten borough. We've been waiting four days and no one has come," Kenney said as her friend tried to salvage remaining family photographs.

James Molinaro, the borough president of Staten Island, on Thursday called the American Red Cross an "absolute disgrace" and even suggested that residents consider ending donations, saying the response was too slow after the storm. More than a dozen Red Cross trucks were seen in Staten Island on Friday.

Staten Islanders' anger marks a study in contrast to the more subdued mood in neighbouring New Jersey, where many residents appeared to take their losses in stride and occasionally conceded that they should have heeded evacuation orders.

On Staten Island, much of the resentment is directed at Bloomberg, who had initially insisted that the city's famed international marathon would go ahead as planned on Sunday.

Long recovery

"He is a moron. People are dead, people have suffered, and these guys are worried about a marathon," said John Jaramillo, charging that the billionaire mayor "doesn't know anything about the regular person".

Bloomberg, who had argued that the marathon would show the reputed City That Never Sleeps was recovering and raise money for storm relief, cancelled the marathon late on Friday due to the controversy.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano toured Staten Island on Friday, offering condolences and vowing that the federal government "will be here for the duration".

Addressing reporters, Bloomberg acknowledged that people who lost homes would face a "long and difficult" recovery but pointed to progress in restoring power and providing food to the hardest-hit.

The city has set up 13 sites in affected areas where residents can pick up up to three pre-packaged meals and bottles of water. Bloomberg said that 290 000 meals and nearly 500 000 bottles of water were distributed on Thursday.

On Staten Island, there was little wait at a site where the National Guard, Red Cross, city workers and volunteers brought out for the taking hundreds of boxes of food, bottles of water and donated food ranging from canned soup to potato chips.

Greatest city in the world

But numerous residents said that they had expected a quicker response to the disaster and less reliance on private volunteers.

"I've lived here for 40 years and my wife has lived here for 65 years. We always gave to charity but when we're the ones who needed help, what did we get? Nothing," Ralph Bennett said in front of his devastated home.

"New York is the greatest city in the country, maybe in the world. We should be able to do more than this," he said.