Federal funds pried from FEMA

About 18 tons of debris was cleared from Lighthouse Drive (photo by Robert Ford)

It took two weeks for fema to decide that Ulster County suffered enough damage for residents to be eligible for help. That’s a long time for residents whose homes were severely damaged by the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy.

A furious Saugerties Village Mayor William Murphy said last week that it was unconscionable that FEMA was not making the necessary declaration so that village residents, particularly those living along Lighthouse Drive, could get federal money to help them pay for repairs to their storm-damaged homes.

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“We’re trying to be as helpful as we can for residents because it’s my feeling that if the federal government is not going to help these people, we will,” Murphy said.

In order for FEMA to make such a declaration, Ulster County had to prove that residents suffered property damage of more than $629,000.

After initially saying Ulster County damage wasn’t extensive enough, local officials were able to demonstrate to FEMA that it was. But only after several visits.

And, while the village was waiting for FEMA’s return, Murphy had the Department of Public Works using a front-end loader and a Bobcat along with several large trucks to haul debris that residents were putting curbside to the town’s transfer station at no charge.

DPW workers hauled away an estimated 18 tons of soaked insulation, sheetrock, mattresses, furniture, carpeting and other debris that was ruined during the storm.

Town supervisor Kelly Myers called the emergency response by police, fire and rescue units an “amazing, committed effort.”

“This was truly the best of our community shining through, there were so many selfless acts,” Myers added.

She told of firefighters from the village fire department, clad in waders, moving through water on Lighthouse Drive to get into homes to help bring people to safety.

Though that part of town was hit hard, the vast majority of Saugerties was unaffected.

“We dodged a major bullet, and for future storms it is important that we have a plan in place,” said Police Chief Joe Sinagra. “This time we were lucky because we received advanced warning and were able to make plans.”

Indeed, the town was ready for Sandy’s worst. Saugerties was the only town in the county that established an emergency operation center, from where its emergency services were able to direct operations from a central location, Sinagra said.

Emergency workers also noted that flyers were prepared several days prior to the storm that listed all services that were available to residents and the need to evacuate low-lying areas. This helped to make things easier because a number of residents in those areas did leave.

While much went well, Myers said some things left room for improvement. Communication, for example: she said the town needs to do a better job informing residents in affected areas that if they don’t evacuate prior to a storm, they could be putting emergency responders in danger if they need help in the storm. Much better to make for higher ground and survey the damage when the water goes down, she said.

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