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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 76/No. 43      November 26, 2012


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(front page)
Workers stand on dignity
in Hurricane Sandy wake
Protests demand restoration of power, gov’t aid
Demonstrators rally Nov. 10 to demand Long Island Power Authority restore power.

NEW YORKMore than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy decimated neighborhoods across the Eastern Seaboard, working people confront callous indifference of government officials and the profit priorities of capitalist corporations, from foot-dragging utilities to insurance companies maneuvering to limit their liability.

More than 8 million houses and businesses in seven states lost electricity. As of Nov. 13, about 80,000 households were still without electricity in New York and New Jersey. According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 2,700 in New York City are still staying in shelters.

The homes of hundreds of residents of Seaside Heights, N.J., were destroyed. Many have been placed in “Camp Freedom,” a tent city set up by the New Jersey state government at Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport, N.J.

Dan Cecere Jr., a disabled worker, was one of the town residents sent to the tent city. “The National Guard told us to go to the police—they are going to evacuate you,” he told the Militant. “If you stay, they’ll arrest you. They had drug dogs. They treated us like criminals.”

After two days in tents, some residents were moved across the street to the track’s four-story grandstand building. Everyone staying there has to have a photo ID. There are security guards at every door. Even to go to the bathroom evacuees have to show their badge.

Corey Goodwin, 24, a cashier, is staying in the grandstand building with his family. The school his five-year-old son goes to in Seaside Heights was washed away. “They won’t let him go to the local school here, because he has the wrong address,” Goodwin told the Militant.

“It’s like a prison in here, lots of police making you feel uncomfortable,” Goodwin said. “We’re getting pushed around and no one knows how long this will last.”

Painter and handyman Mike Beason, 49, also from Seaside Heights, was in his second shelter since the storm when he was told he would have to move again.

“Yesterday they said we were being moved from the church to the racetrack,” he told the Militant Nov. 10. “The bus was halfway here when it turned around and returned to the church. We unpacked all our stuff. Then they said, ‘Pack up, we are going to the racetrack.’ When we got here we waited for two hours in the bus. We couldn’t even go out to have a smoke.”

Beason said there are 250 people in his section, from sick and crying babies to people without medication. “No one knows what the hell is going on,” he said. “I’ve already signed up with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] in two places, but now I have to sign up again.”

Lack of gov’t preparation

More information is coming to light about the lack of preparation on the part of the government at every level.

“What we’ve gotta understand is we live on an island, and islands are surrounded by water—surprise, surprise,” said Bloomberg, according to the Nov. 9 New York Daily News. “Nobody anticipated something this big, and you can say, ‘Well, maybe they should have,’” he added. “You can’t build a wall up to the sky.”

An article in the New York Times the same day outlined preventive measures that would have limited damage. For example, none of the traffic tunnels in New York have gates, plugs or other basic barriers to block waters at their entrances, unlike similar tunnels around the world. The Brooklyn-Battery tunnel alone filled with nearly 100 million gallons of water.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the impact of the storm on electricity on Long Island was exacerbated because Long Island Power Authority had cut back on tree pruning near electric lines for years to reduce expenses.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo chastised those who ignored evacuation orders in face of no clear plan. At the same time, however, New York state officials decided not to order the evacuation of nursing homes in the Rockaways, one of the hardest hit areas in the city, even though it had done so last year during the less powerful Tropical Storm Irene. “Nursing homes complained bitterly about the cost of evacuations last year,” noted the Times.

Some 200 patients from Promenade Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in the Rockaways were not evacuated until a day after the storm flooded the building and the center lost power and ran out of food. The patients were then scattered in shelters and nursing homes across the region, often without records of their illness and medication. According to the Times, the center “lost” some of the patients and as of Nov. 9 had not told family members where they are.

The low-lying working-class areas of Staten Island were some of the worst hit in New York, with 23 of the 43 reported deaths in the city. Some 5,200 Staten Island residents have applied for temporary housing from FEMA. But by Nov. 9 the agency had found housing for only about two dozen, according to the New York Post.

The state is toying with the idea of putting some of the newly homeless in the recently shuttered Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, the Post reported.

“I lost everything, but I still have my pride. We don’t have to stay in a prison,” Wally Martinez, 44, told the Post. “My brother was once in that very prison and my mother used to visit him regularly. She used to tell me how miserable he looked and how filthy and disgusting that prison was.”

‘Far Rockaway has been abandoned’

Militant correspondents visiting the Rockaways Nov. 11 found waterlogged contents of flooded homes still lining the streets.

“It’s a shame,” said Sharon Frost, 48. “Far Rockaway has been abandoned. We need to speak out.”

Many of those without electricity in the area have been told by the power company that they have to hire their own electrician to inspect and repair damage before the company will restore power, according to Metro New York.

It was similar in Oceanside, Long Island.

“There was no information. People felt like they were left in the dark,” Joann Piazza, 40, an unemployed chef, told the Militant Nov. 11, as she was cleaning up her mother’s Oceanside home. “That’s what made it even worse. At least they could have put out a flyer telling people where to go, what to do. I’m unemployed. They could have put me to work passing out flyers, keeping people informed.”

“I have flood insurance,” said Stephanie Cohen, 40, a hair stylist who lost almost the entire contents of her home. “But I have no idea what they are going to give us. It covers damage to the house, but not its content.”

Insurance companies are pressing to officially classify Sandy as a hurricane when it made landfall and not a tropical cyclone, because this would allow them to lower reimbursements.

According to neighborhood residents, there was no garbage collection on their streets in Oceanside for two weeks after the storm, and the electric company had not come by to inspect houses or let people know when power would be back on.

On Nov. 9 hundreds of Oceanside residents protested the slow response. Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy were booed and drowned out by chants “What do we want? Power! When do we want it? Now!”

A day after the rally, garbage trucks showed up and the Long Island Power Authority came by to inspect homes. “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil,” said Cohen.

About 400 people rallied outside Long Island Power Authority headquarters in Hicksville Nov. 10 calling for the resignation of top officials.

Seth Galinsky and Lea Sherman contributed to this article.
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