The East Rockaway Chamber of Commerce hosted a public forum on Feb. 20 that drew dozens of frustrated business owners, homeowners and renters from East Rockaway, Bay Park and neighboring communities — many of whom had questions for Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives about flood insurance coverage and hazard mitigation. Many asked how much longer they could expect to be displaced, four months after Hurricane Sandy.
“I just want to go back home,” was heard more than once during the evening.
“I want everyone to ask questions,” Chamber President Debbie Hirschberg told the crowd as the meeting began. “We’re here to help you. A lot of businesses and residents are suffering in East Rockaway.”
The crowd gathered in the gymnasium of Bethany Congregational Church on Main Street — the same place that, for many weeks after the storm, served as a main drop-off and pick-up location for clothes, food and much-needed supplies for hurricane victims. “This might be the second-largest disaster that this country has ever experienced,” said Philip Farr, FEMA’s deputy coordinating officer. “At least financially. You guys got hit by what we hope is a once-in-a-lifetime event. You folks that have been impacted by the storm … have decisions to make, but you will recover.” He added that FEMA reps intend to be in the region “for years.”
Farr’s colleague Toney Raines explained that when President Obama declared the area a federal disaster, two programs were automatically activated: the Individual Assistance and Household Program (IA) and public assistance, which helps fund a community’s infrastructure — buildings or bridges. Residents were also urged to apply for federal Small Business Administration loans, which borrowers pay back at a discounted rate.
“These are programs of last resort,” Raines said. “If you have insurance, that is your first priority. Then the federal government steps in and takes care of your basic needs, helps you with what you need to live.” He added that those who have had repeated damage — some homeowners had just moved back in after being displaced by Tropical Storm Irene — would move to the top of the list.