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Senate approves storm bill

U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (l.) and Charles Schumer react after the Senate passed a $50.5 billion Superstorm Sandy relief bill.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The long road to recovery now begins in earnest in communities across Queens as the U.S. Senate finally saw fit to approve a $50.5 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package this week 91 days after the superstorm hit.

And that road will include a stop in court for some residents as homeowners in Breezy Point are preparing to sue the Long Island Power Authority for not shutting off the power flow during the story, leading to a fire that they contend destroyed 120 homes in the community.

The Manhattan law firm Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo confirmed the lawsuit and that families were seeking $1 million each from the much-maligned utility company.

But while that fight has just begun, three months after the Northeast bore the brunt of the superstorm’s destructive force, elected officials said they are eager to move past the political bickering that slowed the legislative process and begin rebuilding the borough.

“Hurricane Sandy devastated southern Queens and the Rockaways, and while it is very troubling that we had to wait three months to get this desperately needed funding, I am pleased to know that we will have the monies necessary to continue helping the home and small business owners of our community rebuild,” said state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park), whose district was battered by the storm. “It has been a long road, but with President Obama’s signature we will finally have the tools needed to put the pieces of our lives back together and to finally take necessary actions to prepare for the future.”

With opposition from conservatives over adding billions of dollars to the nation’s debt still looming over the process, the Senate passed the bill 62-36 Monday after more than a month of political squabbling.

President Barack Obama did not waste any time signing the bill Tuesday.

The hurricane ravaged the Northeast Oct. 29, causing billions of dollars in damage and more than 130 deaths. The storm’s aftermath stirred a political tempest, which stalled relief aid after U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) canceled the initial House vote in early January.

But after the Senate bill passed Monday night, Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut quickly expressed gratitude toward the Senate for the bill’s passage.

“Despite the difficult path in getting to this moment, the Senate membership clearly recognized early on the urgency and necessity of approving the full aid package and its importance in rebuilding our battered infrastructure and getting our millions of affected residents back on their feet as quickly as possible,” the three governors said in a joint statement.

The aid package includes funding to repair transit systems in New York and New Jersey and for housing and other needs in the affected area. Additional funds would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief, while other funds are ticketed for restoration of highways damaged or destroyed in the storm.

House officials approved a $9.7 million relief bill Jan. 3 to enable FEMA to pay out claims to those victims who have federal flood insurance.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said the Senate’s affirmative vote opened the door to allow resources to begin flowing into the region.

“We need to provide direct aid to those who lost their homes, find ways to rebuild our communities, assist our businesses, rebuild our religious sites, bolster our infrastructure to make it more resilient to future catastrophic storms and other natural disasters, and otherwise help our state and its families to recover from the devastation we have suffered,” he said.

But even after the bill’s approval, one resident of Far Rockaway remained skeptical that help would reach some storm-ravaged areas.

“Here in Far Rockaway it feels like we’ve already been forgotten,” said Lionel Grimes, who lives in an apartment complex near Beach 59th Street. “I look at the elected officials and I just see a bunch of comfortable people in suits. It’s hard to get excited or hopeful.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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