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Council looks at how city responded to Sandy crisis

A police car drives down Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Council members questioned administration officials about the city’s preparations and response to Hurricane Sandy Wednesday in the first of what will be several hearings examining what was done right and what was done wrong leading up to and after the unprecedented storm.

“What can we do better so the next time this happens New Yorkers can have a better sense and belief that everything will be okay?” asked Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) in her opening remarks, noting that for many the effects of Hurricane Sandy are still being felt.

Council members directed pointed questions about the coordination of city agencies, outreach to vulnerable populations, challenges to the 911 and 311 systems and other issues to Deputy Mayor Cass Holloway and city Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno, who testified about the city response to Sandy and laid out a detailed time line of the administration’s efforts.

Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said he had heard from many people who said they waited days before they saw FEMA or the Red Cross after the hurricane and questioned why it took the city until the Thursday after the storm to set up a central relief site and supply distribution point at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

“Why’d it take so long to get any sort of organized government relief effort to these people who needed it?” he asked.

Holloway acknowledged that it did take longer to mobilize some of the city’s larger and more sustained efforts and that it did not meet every need of every person, but he rejected Vallone’s assertion that resources were not immediately deployed.

“It’s just not the case that there weren’t government resources on the ground until Thursday,” he said.

A portion of the hearing was also devoted to the large number of people who did not heed the city’s mandatory evacuation order for Zone A and how the city could better locate and help people with special needs in the evacuation area.

Holloway said it was important to identify how to encourage people to follow evacuation orders, pointing out that 80 percent of the people killed in the storm in the city drowned and presumably could have been saved if they had relocated.

“How do you get people to leave?” he said.

He said a potential reason some people did not evacuate is because they were not worried about Hurricane Sandy after the warnings about Hurricane Irene in 2011 were overblown.

“Irene worked against us in this evacuation,” Quinn agreed, and suggested the city try to collect information from those who did not evacuate to understand better their reasons for staying.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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