FEMA reverses decision, recognizes March storms as federal disaster

07/10/2010 12:00 AM |

Horton Avenue flood victim and community organizer Linda Hobson (left) was all smiles waiting for the press conference Saturday at Town Hall, announcing FEMA’s decision to consider the storms that caused the flooding a federal disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has overturned its previous denial of New York’s request to combine the March 29-30 storm with a previously declared storm as one disaster, according to Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).
The decision means that Suffolk County and municipalities such as Riverhead Town are now eligible for reimbursement of more than $6 million in direct expenses related to the March storm, according to Mr. Bishop.
“This is very good news,” Mr. Bishop said at a press conference announcing the reversal Saturday.
The decision also is a step forward to help Horton Avenue residents, many of whom still cannot use their homes because of flood damage sustained in the March storms, Mr. Bishop said.
They will benefit because the designation of the second storm as being eligible for federal disaster assistance will increase the pool of funds available to homeowners for what is known as hazard mitigation grants, Mr. Bishop said. These grants, which municipalities must compete for, can be used to elevate homes or to buy flood damaged homes and give residents money to move elsewhere, Mr. Bishop said.
Suffolk County is currently looking for county-owned properties that could be used to relocate the flood victims, according to Chief Deputy County Executive Chris Kent.
In addition, the decision strengthens residents’ applications for the grants by affirming that the storm which flooded their homes is a federally recognized disaster, according to Mr. Bishop.
“I am absolutely elated,” said Linda Hobson, whose Horton Avenue home is now unlivable and still has 11 inches of water in the basement. “I want to commend our elected officials at every level,” she said.
Ms. Hobson said she’s lived in five different places since the storm.
A March 13-15 storm system that hit Long Island met the qualifications for federal disaster aid, but the March 29-30 storm on its own did not. Then, a proposal to have the March 29-30 storm included  as part of the same storm system as the March 13-15 was rejected, Mr. Bishop said.
“Inexplicably, the administration denied that claim, even though they had granted exactly similar claims to Connecticut and Rhode Island,” the congressman said.
Mr. Bishop said that when he learned this, his first action was to call the White House.
“I said I simply could not let this decision stand,” he said.
“Then, we pulled together every level of government” to fight it, eventually culminating in the ruling this weekend, he added.
“So far, our government seems to be right behind us and we really appreciate that,” said Marie Trent, another Horton Avenue resident whose home was flooded.
Her husband Porter was pictured in press photographs following the storm standing in a basement that filled with water. The basement still has mold and there are cracks in the foundation of the home, Ms. Trent said.
“Everything in the cellar was ruined,” she said.
She’s hoping money to buy a new home can be obtained.
“I wouldn’t want to go through this again,” she said. “I’m hoping this will work out. We’re senior citizens. We can’t afford another mortgage.”
Ms. Hobson and Shirley Coverdale of Long Island Organizing Network (LION), a non-profit group that has advocated on behalf of the flood victims, both said they are happy that elected officials have all worked together to bring about a solution to the program, but that there’s more to be done.
“It is not over yet,” Ms. Coverdale said. “The LION will continue to roar. We will not go away.”