THUNDER BAY – The impact of Hurricane Sandy on the City of New York continues. As the city works to recover, public schools are set to open, however there are still strong signs that it will take time before everything is back to normal.
On Sunday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg shared an update with residents of New York:
“Good afternoon, everyone. Let me bring you up to date on the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. As I said this morning at the meeting with the Governor and federal officials, there are two distinct sets of problems created by Sandy that remain.
For New Yorkers who weren’t in the areas flooded by the storm, the problems have been the disruption of mass transit, the widespread loss of power, and the suspension of public school classes. There are ongoing processes in place in resolving those problems.
As you know, the subway system has largely been brought back on line. There’s still a few that aren’t working, but generally most are. Not all lines are back, and tomorrow morning your commute will be probably a little slower than normal. Joe Lhota said they’re not going to have as many trains on tracks as they usually have, but you should be able to count on getting to work using mass transit, just allow a little bit of extra time.
Let me remind everyone that carpool regulations for driving into Manhattan have been lifted. There’s none of this HOV-3 anymore. Having said that, the fewer cars on the streets, the better we all are. And you’ll use less gasoline as well.
Power is coming back – I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.
Classes are going to resume for nearly one million public school students tomorrow.
The story is very different for those in the areas hit hardest by the water Sandy. That’s what really did most of the damage. This was not a storm where the winds were the problem; it was the water coming in from the ocean or coming down Long Island Sound.
The people who were killed generally were in areas where they had very high water. There were some deaths in other areas where trees came down, but when you talk around the city the places where the devastation is the greatest are those along the shoreline.
Our prayers are with those who lost loved ones, and our sympathies are with those who lost their homes or have been forced to leave because of flooding. We know neighborhood businesses have been hard hit, but many of those who have gone back to their homes have gone back to find the power is still out and many will remain without power in the days ahead.
One of the great fears we have is with cold weather coming, we have to make sure that people can stay warm. Among hardest hit are the Rockaways and Staten Island, a lot of places that don’t have electricity but are going to experience the cold. I’ll talk about that in a minute, but that is the next big problem for us.
In the Rockaways yesterday morning I talked with many concerned residents. I assured them we’ll do everything possible to get power back on. Our team has been working with the Long Island Power Authority, which provides electrical service on the Rockaways. The rest of the city is pretty much taken care of by Con Ed.
We’ve urged them to commit more resources to getting power back to the Rockaways faster, and I’m glad to report that we are seeing some progress.
At midnight there were something like 25,000 customers on the Rockaways without power; we think that’s down to something like 19,000 now. Long way to go, but we’re going in the right direction.
LIPA has agreed to our request to add more crews to this job. That should speed up the process. They’ve also delivered 10 generators to Hammel Houses, a public housing development I visited yesterday. And we’ll continue to provide LIPA with all the support we can.
Some 45,000 public housing residents, you should know, live in the coastal areas designated as Zone A; many of them live in the Rockaways. Over the past two days we’ve been going block-by-block to identify the issues that are blocking power from being turned back on. We’re resolving issues one block and even one house at a time.
Even when power can be turned back on, some of buildings are going to be out of commission for a long time because of damage to boilers and electrical systems. And that’s not just public housing; it’s private apartments and individual houses that have been impacted as well.
So we’re working to take care of the immediate needs of food, water, warmth, and safety, and we’ve also started to address the process of long-term recovery.
This morning, I went back to Staten Island. At Staten Island University Hospital, I visited and talked with a City Sanitation worker who received an electric shock from a downed power line while he was on his sanitation route this morning.
His name is Michael Lewery. His condition is stable. And the accident he suffered shows that there are still dangerous conditions out there – and despite these dangers, City workers like Michael are out there working on our behalf, around the clock, and they really do deserve our gratitude.
By the way, Lewery lives in New Dorp on Staten Island and his home was severely damaged. But that did not keep him from serving his fellow New Yorkers and Staten Islanders, and he was on the job helping to clean up the debris.
Borough President Jim Molinaro, State Senator Andy Lanza, Councilman Jimmy Oddo and I walked the streets of Midland Beach.
We saw some of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy to homes there and also the massive clean-up effort that’s being led by the Departments of Sanitation, Transportation, Parks the NYPD, FDNY and other City agencies, and also members of the National Guard.
I had a cup of coffee a little while ago with General Tom Bostick and his team with the Army Corps of Engineers. They are helping to pump water and restore power. They are people that know how to deal with disasters, and it’s great to have them here and they are helpful.
We also went to a food distribution center and met with volunteers; four of them had been there for 48 hours straight without any sleep. We talked with residents whose homes had been badly damaged. I went inside a few to look and see what the basements looked like. We visited the Oasis Christian Center, where volunteers were handing out food and supplies and I thanked them for their efforts.
We had a lot of runners who had come here to run the marathon who’ve been down there volunteering, carrying stuff, delivering, doing everything that we needed.
Throughout the morning, we advised neighborhood residents to go to the disaster assistance service center at Miller Field, across the street from New Dorp High School. That was one of the six that we’ve opened. There are two on Staten Island, two in the Rockaways, one in Coney Island, and as of today, one in the southeast Bronx, at the Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department.
They’re all open seven days a week until 5:00 PM, and their precise locations are listed on the City’s web site, nyc.gov.
Staten Islanders were getting help from City workers from City social service agencies, and also the staff of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. City Service volunteers and the National Guard are also there and at the disaster assistance service centers, hard at work providing food, water, flashlight batteries, blankets, household items, and other critical supplies to people who are still without power.
Yesterday people who were without power and heat also came to Miller Field to catch a shuttle bus to a shelter where they could spend the night safely. It’s cold outside, and it’s going to remain cold for the next several days so it’s critical that people keep warm.
If you are elderly, or you have an infant under a year old, or have heart disease or other medical conditions, you really should go to a warm place. If you find yourself shivering uncontrollably, or if you see someone who is disoriented, those are symptoms of hypothermia. And anyone with them needs to get to a warm place, covered with blankets, a hot water bottle – anything you can do to get them warm quickly.
We have been knocking on the doors in public housing developments for several days to see if people need help. And yesterday we began urging residents who may be older or infirmed to move to a shelter.
This evening buses at the City’s five disaster assistance centers and at several locations in Manhattan and the Bronx will again help people get to shelters. And again this evening, NYPD patrol officers will use loudspeakers to urge people to go where they can be warm and safe, and tell them how to get there.
Helping people keep warm without power on these chilly nights has also become a focus of the food distribution centers we’re operating in communities without electric power. These sites give food and bottled water to residents of hard-hit communities who are still without electrical power.
Today, all sites are distributing blankets, and many are distributing flashlight batteries and baby supplies, such as disposable diapers and baby formula. We ask you to please bring bags if you go to get some of these items – bags to carry stuff away.
Twelve sites have been open today since 1:00 PM, and are scheduled to close at 5:00 PM. Many of them have stayed open much later when people were lined up. They’ll be open tomorrow from noon until 4:00 PM, and will remain open as long as they’re needed in the days ahead.
There are more than 1,000 NYC Service volunteers involved in this clean-up, in cleaning storm debris, and other work. About half of them are going door-to-door in the affected communities. They’re checking in on the homebound, and letting everyone know where they can go to stay warm tonight.
There’s been enormous outpouring of people donating clothing and food. I think at this point these centers have more than they can really realistically distribute. If we need more, we can certainly put out another call for help, but what would be the most helpful is donations to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, and then we’ll be able to use that money to help people get back on their feet.
Getting the flood water pumped out of public housing developments is a crucial first step to getting the power turned back on there. As I mentioned yesterday, there is a task force of City and Federal agencies hard at work pumping flood waters out of the tunnels that remained closed.
They have completely pumped dry most of the public housing developments that were flooded in the storm. Much of the public housing in the city has just been pumped totally dry. And this morning, the Navy and Marine de-watering teams that came ashore on the Rockaways were one of the reasons they immediately went to work pumping water out of public housing developments in Beach 41st Street, Hammel Houses, and Ocean Bay Apartments.
City, State and Federal workers are also continuing to pump out the Hugh Carey Brooklyn Battery Tunnel; the Queens Midtown Tunnel; the New Jersey PATH Tunnel; as well as the Montague Tunnel that carries the N and R trains between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“City building inspectors have done most of the structural evaluations in the Rockaways. At this point they have inspected more than 12,600 of the nearly 55,000 homes in Zone A on their list, including those that most needed to be inspected.
“The good news is that power continues to come back on across the city. This morning, there were fewer than 145,000 customers who were still without power; that’s down from 194,000 yesterday afternoon.
“The City also has nearly 40 emergency generators in place or on the way to hospitals, nursing homes, public housing developments and other critical locations that still lack power.
“As we announced earlier, public school classes will resume tomorrow. Some people have asked why we are sending kids back to school since Tuesday is a holiday.
“Let me remind everybody, our kids have already missed a week of school and we don’t want them to miss another day. And throughout the last week, parents have had to rearrange their schedules to take care of their kids – and that can be a real hardship for a lot of people who want to get a day at work and can’t do both.
“Every day we’re working to help more people get their lives back to normal, and opening schools will be an important part of that process for both students and parents. Our kids need to get back to class after a week without school, and this way we’ll be able to use Election Day to adjust the bus routes and staffing and supplies, and all of the things that are going to require a little bit of experience.
“We just can’t predict who’s going to show up where and that sort of thing, and we’re obviously going to have problems. Some of the buses were damaged in the storm, some of the bus drivers are new and don’t know the routes. We’ll just have to bear it, but we’ll have a day between the first day and the second day of school – namely Tuesday – and we’re going to use that day to straighten things out to the best of our ability.
We think something like 90 percent of the schools will be open tomorrow. There are 65 schools that we know won’t be open. They include eight schools with emergency shelters, as well as 57 schools that sustained serious damage during the storm.
On Wednesday – when classes resume after Tuesday’s Election Day – the students in those 57 schools will attend class in alternative sites. So if you’re going to one of those schools, you’re not going to have classes on Monday, you start on Wednesday. How do you find out? You go to 311 or nyc.gov, and we are also proactively trying to reach out to you.
We have robo-calls, our coordinators are making calls, and we’ll get the message to as many people as we can. And I’m sure we’re going to miss some people, and that’s just the reality of trying to do something that we have to do quickly. Some people don’t update their phone numbers when they move or change phones, and so sometimes you can’t get to everybody you want.
Finally, there are now fewer than 75 schools, I’m happy to say, without power; that’s down from 178 yesterday, and we expect this number to keep falling. Any without power Monday morning won’t be open, and that information, once again, will be available on 311 and nyc.gov. So we’re trying to reach out to everybody. We’re not going to get to everybody, we know that. I urge parents to, if you live in a place where there might have been damage to the school, if it’s near the water, you have a reasonable expectation that there’s going to be a problem, pick up the phone proactively, call 311.
Some of the buildings may not have heat, some of the school buildings, and they’ve been without heat for a while, so please dress your children with that in mind. If the schools were dangerously cold we obviously wouldn’t open them, but if they’re chilly, extra sweaters for the kids is something that should make some sense.
Parents and students can get status updates about the schools by going to the Department of Ed’s web page at nyc.gov as I said. You can type in the name of the school your child attends and find out whether it will be open, or whether it is in an alternative location, on Monday. You can also call 311 or text the words ‘NYCSchools’ – that’s one word – to 877-877. People can also receive texts in Spanish by texting ‘escuela’ to the same number, 877-877.
One-point-one million robo-calls have already been made to parents; principals and parent coordinators are continuing to reach out directly to their parent communities. We’re going to run full-page ads in several of Monday’s daily papers with school closure information. And I also urge parents to follow the news on radio, television, and other sources.
It is complex and people are going to make mistakes, and people are going to get misinformed. We know that, but it’s better to have another day of school, get most kids to school, find out where we need more resources, and then we’ll have Tuesday to try to adjust.
We do expect about 96 percent of the schools buses to be running Monday morning – although please bear in mind that, because of downed trees or other storm debris on the streets, there may be some delays in picking student pick-ups, or I’m sure there’s going to be cases where just the driver made a mistake on the route and we didn’t get to everybody. We’re trying to do our best, and I want to support them and give them all the tools that we possibly can, knowing that it’s not going to be perfect.
The City’s Department of Education, you should know, is also calling up a reserve of substitute teachers to make sure that all classrooms are covered.
The schools where we’re moving classes, sometimes they’re moved from one borough to another, sometimes we’re putting elementary schools in high schools – the bottom line is we have to go where there are empty seats. And as you know, we keep building classrooms, adding seats, and it’s never enough, and so we don’t have a very large group of empty seats, but we think we do by moving things around in these schools we’re able to accommodate everyone.
I mentioned the schools will not be open Tuesday, Election Day. For days, there’s been a lot of uncertainty about what voters were supposed to do if their polling sites were closed because of storm damage or lack of power.
This weekend, our office and the Governor’s office, working together, sat down with the Board of Elections to go through the poll site list, site by site. We’ve determined which sites could be open, and helped them find alternative sites for those that couldn’t. There are a total of something like 61 of the alternate sites; three in Manhattan, three in the Bronx, two on Staten Island, 28 in Queens, and 25 in Brooklyn.
The list of poll sites should be available on the website of the Board of Elections. They have updated their on-line poll site finder so that people can find out if their poll sites have been changed.
The Board of Elections tells us that about 143,000 voters in all five boroughs will be assigned to poll sites different from their usual site. Our NYC Service volunteers are letting many New Yorkers know about their temporary polling places.
Over the next day, it’s going to be critical that the Board of Elections communicate this new information to their poll workers. Unfortunately, as you know, the Board has had a history of not opening all poll sites on time, and they’re going to work hard to make sure that poll workers and voters know where they’re supposed to go on Election Day.
As you know, the Mayor’s Office does not run the Board of Elections. I’ve always believed that the Board of Elections should be overhauled to increase its accountability and efficiency.
The fact that the Board has been unable to agree on selecting a new executive director for two years shows just how dysfunctional it is. The difficulties they’ve had in planning for Tuesday I think further underscores that.”