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How Obama’s FEMA Criminally Botched the Hurricane Recovery Effort

Posted By Daniel Greenfield On November 23, 2012 @ 7:38 pm In The Point | 14 Comments

Obama’s win came in part because the media and a Springsteen-loving governor portrayed him as dedicated to relief for those hit by Hurricane Sandy. The reality however is that Obama made some routine photo op stops. FEMA, along with the Red Cross, failed abysmally at Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, and that story wasn’t told before the election because the people in a position to tell it had no power and the media wanted Obama to win. Afterward the story is slowly trickling out.

“I asked, ‘Why haven’t you been sent out?’” he says. “Then he just lays the story on me, tells me about all the personnel they have out there, more than 100 ambulances, two paramedics per ambulance, everybody waiting for marching orders.”

Horrified, the logistical worker offered to help transport them to a place where they could be useful.

“He said they couldn’t do it because FEMA had them all under contract, and they couldn’t go out without FEMA’s say-so.

Fair warning. This comes from the Village Voice and it’s chock full of leftist agitprop, racefail and promotion for Occupy Sandy, but the FEMA material is quite real. And some of it is incredibly scandalous. There are things here that would have gotten Bush lynched in the press if they had happened during Katrina.

FEMA and the Red Cross was next to invisible. Weeks after the storm, many New Yorkers in storm-damaged neighborhoods had yet to see any sort of institutional relief at all.

Nine days after Sandy, the night the nor’easter hits New York, the Rockaways are quiet. Snow blankets the streets, and visibility is at a minimum.

FEMA has shuttered its emergency-response stations throughout the city and withdrawn its disaster-recovery personnel, citing, to the disbelief of stranded residents, inclement weather.

Less than a mile away from the Rockaways as the crow flies, just across the Marine Parkway Bridge, the institutional disaster responders are massing at Floyd Bennett Field. FEMA and the National Guard have set up a headquarters at the former airfield, and upwards of 150 ambulances and EMT crews are gathered from across the country.

In the first rush after the storm, these emergency medical responders were frantically busy with the evacuation of NYU Langone and Bellevue, transporting patients out of the damaged hospitals to safer facilities.

But after that burst of activity, the orders suddenly stopped coming. EMT crews idled for days on end, waiting for direction, growing increasingly exasperated as the hours and days ticked by.

A private recovery worker providing transport and logistical support to the first responders told the Voice about receiving a request for blankets and sleeping bags needed at Floyd Bennett Field. He was confused—wasn’t that the FEMA headquarters? Shouldn’t goods like that be going out to the city?

“I called my contact back for clarification,” the logistics worker tells the Voice. “He says to me: ‘We’re firefighters and EMTs and nurses. We’ve been here for days, and they haven’t let us off the compound, they haven’t given us marching orders, they haven’t even given us our equipment. We’ve been sleeping on plastic chairs since we got here.’”

Through his work with other relief operations, the logistics worker knew there was acute need just down the road for medical checks, prescriptions, and other work for which the medical workers would be perfectly suited.

“I asked, ‘Why haven’t you been sent out?’” he says. “Then he just lays the story on me, tells me about all the personnel they have out there, more than 100 ambulances, two paramedics per ambulance, everybody waiting for marching orders.”

Horrified, the logistical worker offered to help transport them to a place where they could be useful.

“He said they couldn’t do it because FEMA had them all under contract, and they couldn’t go out without FEMA’s say-so. They were so frustrated. They came all this way, and now they’re not going anywhere, and there’s something in their contract telling them they can’t even throw up their arms and say ‘Fuck it’ and go into the city and do good.”

Trying to get an official explanation for the idle EMTs only reveals further interagency confusion. A FEMA spokesperson told the Voice the federal agency was only at Floyd Bennett Field in a support capacity, and EMTs were under the direction of the state and city offices of emergency management. The city OEM didn’t return requests for comment. A spokesperson for the state OEM said the EMTs had federal contracts and directed inquiries back to FEMA.

While FEMA proved useless, individual volunteers were the ones who made all the difference. Including ragtag groups of unlikely people.

This recovery station has been around, in one form or another, since the day after Sandy hit New Dorp, more than a week before the massive FEMA camp was erected on Miller Field.

It was set up by members of the Hallowed Sons, a Bay Ridge motorcycle club that crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that first night to check on the family of one of the club members and never left.

In a far corner of the parking lot this Sunday, Bobby Hansen is lying on his back underneath his 2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster, working on changing a tire wrecked after he drove his bike through floodwaters and over building debris. Hansen is wearing a week’s worth of white stubble, glasses, and a soiled gray waffle tee and black jeans, with a seven-inch knife sheathed on his belt. Speaking in a slurred staccato, Hansen recalls the scene when the club first arrived.

“When we first rode in, we were like, ‘Holy shit!’” he says. “Everything was flooded. There was debris everywhere.”

By Tuesday morning, the waters had receded, and the Hallowed Sons had set up camp in the Oceanside Park, serving food and sending teams out with residents to their small, single-family homes to remove wreckage and junk out of the ruined basements and first floors. On a bedsheet they spray-painted the words “Hallowed Sons MC, Just Ask for Help.” Aside from the shell-shocked residents, they were the only people on the scene.

Some of the homes in New Dorp were completely destroyed in the storm surge; others are still standing but ruined. The Hallowed Sons kept the food coming and worked with residents to canvass the neighborhood, checking on the homebound, assessing property damage, finding out what people needed and getting it to them.

In the process, the Hallowed Sons became the de facto recovery operation in New Dorp. With no one else on the ground, volunteers from unaffected parts of Staten Island, Manhattan, and as far away as Ohio made their way to New Dorp and attached themselves to the motorcycle club.

Hansen and the other Hallowed Sons brought a biker’s swagger and a certain lawless initiative to their relief work.

After their recovery station’s food stocks were raided one night during the first week (“Mexicans,” Hansen opines), the gang suspended a warning hangman’s noose over their operation and posted Hansen, complete with his menacing Crocodile Dundee knife, to stand guard overnight next to an illegal bonfire.

When the nor’easter battered the neighborhood all over again 10 days after Sandy, residents found themselves trapped, without means of evacuation. Hansen, a 15-year veteran of the MTA, found a public bus idling on high ground.

“I told the driver, ‘You want to be fucking useful? There are people down there who need to get out of here,’” Hansen says. “I made him go down and get people to a safe place.”

At this point if we had a government run by motorcycle gangs it would be an improvement. Right now we’re ruled by wannabe feudal lords who are not only tyrannical, but also completely inept at everything except rigging elections.


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