FEMA Disaster Centers Shut Doors 'Due to Weather'

By DNAinfo Staff  on November 7, 2012 11:35am  | Updated on November 7, 2012 5:50pm

TOTTENVILLE — They fly into disaster areas, but flee from raindrops.

FEMA disaster recovery centers in Hurricane Sandy-ravaged sections of the city that were supposed to provide assistance to hurricane victims went MIA Wednesday morning, posting signs saying that they were closed due to the approaching Nor'easter.

The temporary shuttering of the facilities, which help victims register for disaster relief, as well as city food distribution centers come even as many of those still reeling from the monster storm were not told that they had to leave the battered areas.

On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that residents in the low-lying portions of Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn were advised to leave ahead of the nor'easter, which could hit the city with 60 mph gusts and several inches of rain Wednesday afternoon, but that the evacuation was not mandatory like the one issued for all of Zone A ahead of Sandy.

“We do not believe that it’s necessary to evacuate people,” said the mayor Wednesday.

The move left residents of the storm-ravaged areas fuming.

"The storm is coming. We don't know how hard it's going to hit us," said Jenny Cartagena, 46, who found the FEMA center in Coney Island closed Wednesday when she went there looking for food. "I need some help now."

Because the FEMA centers were located with food distribution and warming services, some residents who arrived there were confused by the closed centers.

The city's food distribution centers, a lifeline for the thousands left without power, heat and water for more than a week, would only be operating until noon Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced.

And the National Guard, which was handing out food and water in Coney Island also shut down at 1:30 p.m. because of the weather, but continued handing out water to the line of approximately 30 people.

A spokemsan for the New York National Guard, Eric Durr, said that he could not comment on that specific instance but "we instructed our troops to pay attention to the weather and don’t take unecessary risks." Still, he said the guard would continue to provide relief as long as was needed.

In Staten Island, a printed paper sign taped to the front door of on the center at 6581 Hylan Blvd. at 10:30 a.m. read “FEMA Center Closed Due to Weather.”

The front doors of the disaster recovery center, which is housed inside the Mount Lorretto Catholic Youth Organization, were unlocked, but there was no staff anywhere in sight for at least a half an hour.

And a set of buses which served as a pair of warming centers at the site for the past several days were missing, according to non-FEMA volunteers who continued to hand out supplies from a nearby building despite the storm.

Volunteers at a nearby donation distribution center said the buses vanished on Wednesday.

“FEMA packed up and left,” said Louis Giraldi, 47, a volunteer handing out cleaning supplies to victims.

“We don’t know where they are, so there’s nothing here but us.”

The site is listed on FEMA's list of NYC recovery centers, and was supposed to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday. The site was also included in the city's list of warming facilities supposed to open at 9 a.m. on Wednesday at the site.

A FEMA R/V also sat empty next to the recovery center.

A pair of FEMA workers alarmed by a reporter's camera came out of the building at 11 a.m. and took the sign down, saying the center reopen at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The worker declined to give his name and would not explain why the site was closed or why the buses were missing.

FEMA spokesman Carter Langston said that the mobile centers were shuttered and staff moved inland because they were not structurally sound enough to weather the storm, which could put their staff in danger.

"Because these are mobile centers, they were shut down for life safety," Langston said. "As soon as weather permits tomorrow, they’re going to be back in place [possibly by noon]."

The remaining five sites in the city — in Staten Island, Coney Island, the Rockaways and The Bronx — were also closed or in the process of shutting down.

In Coney Island, a sign written in red ink that was bleeding from the rain sat on a police barrier in the parking lot of Our Lady of Solace Shrine Church on West 17th Street and Mermaid Avenue.

"They didn't want to get their precious van wet," quipped a church volunteer.

Cartagena, an asthma sufferer, said she showed up to the site with her home health aide, Camilla Suriel, 49, and her son's grandfather, Nelson Otero, 72 expecting "at least water."

"Something, you know, help," she said.

Volunteers at the church were still giving away water and MTA buses were on site to help people

Serkan Yalcin, whose apartment in Sheepshead Bay was wrecked by Sandy, had a friend drop him off there.  He applied online for FEMA assistance last week, and came to the center today to follow up with an actual FEMA rep after his wife was not able to get through to reps.

"I would like to know if my application is in the system or not," he said. "Nobody has called or shown up."

The situation was similar in Queens, where thousands remain without power more than a week after Sandy.

At the FEMA site on Rockaway Point Boulevard, near Barrett Street, a sign read: “Operations stop [Tuesday] at 4 p.m. Closed Wednesday 7 Nov.”

The plan was to move the tent to the 99th Regional Support Command Center for Army reservists there, but because the building had no power the move could not be made until Thursday, a rep for the command center said.

Warren Lehner, 57, a project manager, lives right across the street from where the FEMA shelter has been registering hurricane victims the past 10 days, said he will likely need help for his parents, who have up to four feet of flooding in their home.

And he said with the nearly the entire peninsula going on their tenth day without power, food hard to come by, and water not running a large portion of the houses, the FEMA tents draw in much-needed volunteer efforts that established themselves around the relief centers.

“Now we got another storm coming in, where everyone’s going to be scrambling just to find a place they don’t freeze to death,” Lehner said. “Where are you going to go for a hot meal? It’s coming down to people just trying to survive, and that’s just not how it should be.”

Another location that was listed on FEMA's website on Beach 116th Street and Beach Channel Drive, showed no signs of the agency's presence.

At the city's Miller Field Distribution Center on New Dorp Lane in Staten Island, which houses a mobile FEMA disaster recovery center was also shutting down on Wednesday morning, a police car blocked the entrance at 11:35 a.m.

A cop said that officials were evacuating it because of the storm.

And in The Bronx, a FEMA tent and trailer sitting behind a volunteer firehouse on Adee Avenue in The Bronx was packed up Tuesday ahead of the storm.

"Theres's a ton of equipment you want to protect to make sure it's doing the most good wherever you take it," said Jim Garvey, of the Edgewater Athletic Association, which shares a building with the firehouse.

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