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Local News November 30, 2012  RSS feed

HELPING QNS. GET BACK UP

Agencies Detail Progress Post-Storm
by Sam Goldman

It was all hands on deck at the Monday, Nov. 19 meeting of the Queens Borough Board at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, as city agencies briefed lawmakers and community board members on their efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“Queens today is not what it once was,” Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said in her opening remarks, calling Sandy “the most devastating storm to hit this region.”

The borough president added that she has toured affected areas “every single day” and has sought help from numerous elected officials including President Barack Obama.

Police

Assistant Chief James Secreto of Patrol Borough Queens South told the crowd that Sandy adversely affected the 100th and 101st precincts in the Rockaways as well as the 106th Precinct in Ozone Park.

Officers used 10 MTA buses to evacuate 1,400 Rockaway residents to area shelters, but “the waters rose a faster than any of us anticipated,” he stated.

“One thing we didn’t count on was having to move the vehicles,” he stated; the 100th Precinct moved police vehicles to the Cross Bay Bridge.

In the 101st Precinct, Secreto noted that officials decided to pick up officers who were on foot, using a “barrier truck,” but the street flooded to the point that 17 cops had to abandon the truck and wade through “chest-high water” to safety.

Secreto admitted that there had been “stories of looting and whathave you” coming out of the Rock- aways; while Secreto “really didn’t see that to a large degree,” eight arrests were made due to break-ins. A local RadioShack and CVS pharmacy was burglarized, although officers executed a search warrant to recover some of the stolen merchandise.

A total of 123 storm-related crimes were reported in the three weeks—68 in the first week, 28 in the second week and 27 in the third week.

In addition, the NYPD, acting on reports of tow trucks illegally taking away cars to sell for scrap metal, set up checkpoints on bridges in and out of the Rockaways, and arrested two truckers for the crime. Officers have also removed 500 unsalvageable vehicles from the Rockaway area.

Secreto did note that few arrests were made due to the shortage of gasoline that plagued the area after Hurricane Sandy, although “it was really a tense situation.”

Currently Secreto has 500 officers working 12-hour tours daily in the peninsula. While the 106th Precinct is “back to normal,” additional details are still being sent to the 100th and 101st precincts.

Elizabeth Braton, chairperson of Community Board 10, urged Secreto to continue additional details for the Howard Beach area, noting that “many people cannot secure the exterior of their homes” due to damage to doors and windows.

In general, Secreto noted, Patrol Borough Queens South is doing better in crime since the superstorm; the 105th, 107th and 113th precincts were all up in crime before Sandy, and down since.

He added that there are concerns over some burglary reports that may be fraudulent, as some residents attempt to recoup items lost in the storm.

Assistant Chief James McCarthy of Patrol Borough Queens North admitted that his portion of the borough “didn’t come close to experiencing the devastation” sustained by Queens South.

The 108th and 114th precincts, which are both located near the western Queens waterfront, dealt with flooding issues, and some residents had to be rescued from homes or restaurants.

Officers in Queens North made 13 arrests stemming from the gasoline shortage, including one arrest for the robbery of a gas container.

In all, 38 crimes occurred during Hurricane Sandy. Of those, 13 were major crimes: 10 burglaries (seven residential), two felony assaults and the aforementioned robbery.

After running 12 hour-tours, Queens North has largely returned to normal, McCarthy stated, and resources are being sent to help Queens South.

FDNY

Chief Robert Maynes, the FDNY’s Queensborough commander, gave attendees at the meeting a play-by-play account of how the agency prepared for and dealt with Hurricane Sandy.

The night before Sandy, the agency planned to move equipment and personnel located inside Rock- away firehouses were moved to other areas.

Battalion 47/Engine Co. 265/Ladder Co. 121, at 48-06 Rockaway Beach Blvd., Engine Co. 268/Ladder Co. 137 at 257 Beach 116th St., and Engine Co. 266 at 92-20 Rockaway Beach Blvd. were all transferred to a larger Queens facility at 16-15 Central Ave. in Far Rockaway. The agency had determined that the site, home to Ladder Co. 134/Engine Co. 264/Engine Co. 328 and nicknamed “the big house,” would not flood.

Engine Co. 329, at 402 Beach 169th St. and other equipment was sent to firehouses in Brooklyn.

The FDNY then prepared “continuous responses” to affected areas in flood zones.

Engine 268 and Ladder 137 were in the process of moving their equipment when they responded to a fire on Beach 14th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard in the Rockaways the night Sandy hit.

According to Maynes, it was determined that flood waters of 24 inches would do “fatal damage” to their fire-fighting apparatus, but the truck was in “about 60 inches of water.”

The firefighters had to wait until they could bring the equipment on line before fighting the fire.

The fire was eventually quelled, but not before 21 buildings were damaged. A “swift water team” helped rescue 25 residents from a building nearby.

At 165th Avenue in Howard Beach, another fire harmed two buildings, and another swift water team rescued residents at the scene.

Later that night, Maynes stated, a wind-driven fire engulfed Belle Harbor homes. A fireman who lived in the area helped evacuate residents and rescued a wheelchair-bound woman with multiple sclerosis from the flames.

FDNY units encountered difficulty reaching the fire due to the flooding.

“We couldn’t get through to help. For a firefighter, that’s probably about as bad as it gets,” Maynes stated.

Eventually, FDNY Engine companies 265 and 328 joined Ladder 121 in traveling across the Marine Parkway Bridge to the scene and put out the fire using their combines resources. Thirty-one buildings were lost, but Maynes stated that the FDNY efforts saved over 40 other structures.

Finally, Maynes addressed the large fire in Breezy Point, which damaged over 130 homes.

Firefighters arriving at the scene were unable to use fire hydrants nearby; instead, they cycled flood water through the trucks to try and put out the blaze.

After three or four attempts to stop the wind-aided flames proved unsuccessful, firefighters finally got the blaze under control near a parking lot in the area.

The home of Engine Companies 265 and 268 are still not running; Maynes stated that it will take a few more weeks to get them up and running, and that Engine 265 in particular was a priority.

Maynes noted that the FDNY and volunteers are continuing to help remove water from area basements.

Power

Con Edison’s Milo Blair called Sandy “the worst storm I’ve ever seen” with over a million customers— one-third of the city’s customer base—affected and “significant damage on the overhead systems” due to falling poles and trees.

The power company pre-emptively shut down three networks to protect them from damage, he told the crowd. After the storm, field crews told Blair that due to flooding woes in low-lying areas, “it’s going to take a while to bring [power] back.”

Con Ed moved quickly to re-establish local infrastructure both above and below ground, then began restoring power to customers with schools, hospitals and city housing units given priority.

Crews, featuring workers from across the country, were sent to hardhit areas and overhauled everything “from soup to nuts,” Blair said, in an attempt to get the power back on for residents.

Crews are in place to help residents get power as soon as their residences can get certified by city-approved electricians.

Nicholas Lizanich of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) stated that over a million customers lost power in the Rockaways due to Hurricane Sandy.

“We did the same kinds of things that Con Ed had referred to,” Lizanich stated, including pre-storm preparation, but the agency, like many others, was caught off-guard by the strength of the storm, and four substations lost power due to flooding.

The agency worked to rebuild those damaged substations and took steps to protect them from future storms, and began pumping out sand and debris from manholes and belowground wires.

After this, LIPA inspected aboveground wires and opened command and recovery centers in the Rockaways. Currently, 400 LIPA engineers are in the area, and will be there for some time, according to Lizanich.

At this point, the power system is energized across the peninsula, but many homes have wiring issues that must be addressed, and a city-certified technician must sign off on the repairs, similar to the situation Blair described.

Of 35,000 meters (representing over 100,000 people), only half are restored. LIPA is reaching out to Rockaway residents through the media to get them to contact the agency

However, Community Board 14 Chairperson Dolores Orr and District Manager Jonathan Gaska both noted that there are not enough electricians to do the inspections and repairs; Gaska claimed that Rockaway residents currently have a three-week wait to have an electrician come and restore power—a long wait if electricity is needed to restore heat during the winter.

Gaska told the crowd that he has asked the Mayor’s Office to allow electricians from outside the city to come and perform emergency repairs.

Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley noted that some parts in some older buildings must be built from scratch, a process that could take over six months.

FEMA

Even before Sandy hit area shores, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had set up shop at Citi Field, Floyd Bennett Field and Republic Airport in Long Island, according to FEMA’s Michael Karl.

The agency works to support state efforts, Karl explained; FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was directed by President Obama to “cut through the bureaucracy” and help New York in any way they could.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense sent forces to the New York City area without even being asked, which is “something that has never been done, in my experience,” according to Karl. Marines have been helping to pump area basements clean of flood water.

Several programs were created by FEMA and the city to help residents get back up and running, most notably the Rapid Repair program, which helps households registered with the agency get their homes repaired.

In the 11414 ZIP code, 49 percent of residents registered with the agency; in 11693, 87 percent are registered. In 11697, 97 percent are registered.

Karl also noted that the costs incurred by the state for repairs to transportation infrastructure, DSNY overtime pay and electrical repair work can all be covered by FEMA.

Pat McCabe, who represents State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, asked Karl if trailers are being considered for Hamilton Beach residents who lost their homes and want to stay in the area while the homes are being rebuilt. Karl told her that a Housing Task Force has been convened to consider solutions.

Braton added that many residents are searching for hotels but federal employees have taken up many of the rooms available; Karl told her that FEMA employees have been ordered to check out of hotels in the area.

DSNY

Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty received an ovation from those in attendance for his agency’s work to clean up areas damaged by the hurricane.

Citywide, he stated, the DSNY has picked up about 265,000 tons of debris from Sandy, as the amount of trash has increased 45 percent over the past three weeks (and 60 percent in the first week after the hurricane).

Recycling pickup was curtailed, however, because recycling facilities were located close to waterfront areas damaged in the storm.

Doherty lauded the federal government for allowing them to use Jacob Riis Park as an area to stage trash delivery.

“If we hadn’t gotten that site, it would have been a real problem in the Rockaway area,” he said. “We were fortunate to get that.”

FEMA, in cooperation with the Army Corps of Engineers and a private firm, have been loading 90 longhaul trucks a day with debris that is being shipped upstate and to sites in Pennsylvania.

Doherty stated that they hope to clear the lot in the next two weeks.

In addition, the DSNY is working with the city Parks Department to clean up sand that Sandy had strewn onto city streets.

“We seem to be making some headway each week” in that department, Doherty noted.

Buildings

Department of Buildings (DOB) inspectors, engineers and consultants are making post-storm exterior assessments of structures in damaged areas, Queens Buildings Commissioner Derek Lee told the board.

Using national standards as a guide, the agency is posting signs on structures with a color code so residents and inspectors alike can quickly understand the state of a building.

A red sign means the site is “structurally compromised” and workers are not allowed to enter until further inspections are completed. A yellow sign means the structure is only partially damaged. A green sign means that no issues can be seen but that water damage may be a possibility. A site that is deemed unharmed will not receive a sign.

Interior inspections have begun on all sites coded yellow, Lee added.

Parks

According to Parks Queens Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, over 14,000 tree-related phone calls were handled by the Parks Department between Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent snowfall two weeks later. There are 21 homes in Queens that still have trees that need to be removed.

With the help of the FDNY, the DSNY and private contractors, all city streets were reopened by Nob. 14.

Lewandowski added that the department loaned Flushing Meadows- Corona Park to the Department of Education to Con Edison, which created a “mini city” to deal with power problems throughout the borough.

In the Rockaways, the wooden beach boardwalk has been destroyed between 86th and 126th streets. Portions of the boardwalk which was recently erected is still “in good condition.”

The Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA are working to find sand that has been strewn onto city streets to place back into the beach area; sand that has been “contaminated” by oil or trash was sent to Riis Park.

“We are in a major rebuilding mode,” with lifeguard stations and comfort facilities damages up and down the boardwalk.

Of 66 parks closed in Sandy’s wake, 13 remain closed; 169 locations throughout the city are open but will need work.

Local parks in the Rockaway area are currently being used as food distribution sites, and Parks Department personnel is working to keep those areas clean.