Where’s our money?

Sandy victims seek answers at new disaster-recovery center


More than six weeks after Hurricane Sandy, residents of the Five Towns and other communities ask two questions more often than any others, according to Erroll Johnson, the director of the newly opened Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster-recovery center at Young Israel in Woodmere: “‘When can I get some money?’” Johnson said, “and ‘When can I get some more money?’”

To help answer those questions, several community leaders joined forces to open the center in the Saul Kauffmann Social Hall at the synagogue.

Since Dec. 4, more than 500 people have come through its doors to speak with representatives of FEMA, the Small Business Administration, the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, the State Insurance Department, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the county’s Department of Social Services.

“In talking to people in the community, they had nowhere to go to get answers,” said Steven Zuller, chairman of the board at Young Israel. “They were invited to large FEMA meetings, but there was no place to tell their story one on one. The feeling was, We need help, we need a center.”

Zuller, along with Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Woodmere, worked with Craig Craft, commissioner of the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management Commissioner, County Legislator Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) and Hempstead Town Councilmen James Darcy and Anthony Santino to find a suitable location. After three venues were rejected, Zuller offered space at the 1,000-family Young Israel, despite the fact that its first floor was heavily damaged by flooding. “To see the devastation, the likes of which I’ve never seen in 50-plus years, inspired me to help,” Kamenetzky said. “People need clarity.”

“It’s great to have somewhere to go to get some answers and know where you stand,” said Young Israel’s rabbi, Hershel Billet.

At the center last Sunday, Woodmere resident Irwin Goldstein was angry and frustrated. He said he had filed a FEMA claim within a week after Sandy, but had yet to receive any money. The house Goldstein has lived in since 1986 sustained significant damage for the first time ever after a storm. An accountant and attorney who works at home, he was aggravated with the system.

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