Tag Archives: sandy

Prayer vigil held to rally for Sandy victims whose homes are in disrepair


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Jean Ferrara-Rodriquez is living in a construction zone 14 months after the superstorm destroyed her West Hamilton Beach home.

“We are struggling from day to day,” said the single mother of a 14-year-old girl. “It’s been way too long of a process and way too slow.”

Faith in New York, a city-based, interfaith federation, hosted a prayer vigil outside Ferrara-Rodriquez’s home on Wednesday to rally for Sandy victims still suffering from the superstorm and call upon Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and the new administration to make recovery a top priority.

De Blasio has spoken publicly about his vision to rebuild resilient communities and strengthen the city’s infrastructure following Sandy’s impact.

The floor, walls and windows of Ferrara-Rodriquez’s ground floor were replaced after Sandy, but a draft from the cold outside air can be felt close to the walls, and the windows offer little insulation, she said.

Repairs have been going on since February, but the 14-year West Hamilton Beach resident has a long road ahead. The floor and walls are still bare, wires and nails are visible and she has no appliances. Food and other items are dispersed throughout the first floor, and her refrigerated items are kept close to the wall so they can be kept cool by the draft.

She applied to Build it Back in August but said she has yet to hear anything from the city’s storm recovery program.

“It’s been two holiday seasons,” she said. “I’m just asking where are the funds we were promised, and why has it taken so long.”

Ferrara-Rodriquez evacuated her 164th Road home before the storm and moved from friends’ houses to a homeless shelter and finally to the Comfort Inn on Cross Bay Boulevard where she lived for 93 days.

She moved back to her damaged home in February, where she and her daughter lived on the second floor without heat. She said Rapid Repairs, the government-sponsored program to give storm victims immediate assistance, installed a boiler, which froze over and broke. The heat was fixed this season for the colder weather.

“We have lived in devastation, isolation and [have] seemingly been forgotten in this slow process of recovery,” said Father Fulgencio Gutierrez of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea parish in Far Rockaway at Wednesday’s vigil. “Our communities cannot wait another year.”

 

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Op-ed: We cannot forget the Philippines


| oped@queenscourier.com

STATE SENATOR TOBY ANN STAVISKY

Just over a month ago, the strongest storm ever recorded crashed into the coast of the Philippines. Wreaking devastation over large swaths of Southeast Asia, Typhoon Haiyan has affected over 12 million people in the region and claimed thousands of lives. Even today, the death toll continues to rise. At press time, the latest count was over 6,000 casualties.

It sometimes can be difficult to fathom the magnitude of a storm’s destruction and damage from half a world away. When the victims do not share our common traditions, history or culture, we may feel only remotely affected but that does not diminish the need to help others.

I and many of my Filipino constituents have seen this growing apathy towards the storm’s aftermath, evident in waning press coverage and conversation about the disaster. Our feelings were confirmed by a recent Pew poll which found more Americans were following news about the healthcare rollout than the aftermath of Haiyan. Fundraising numbers also corroborate this—one week after the typhoon hit, Americans raised about $33 million for relief efforts compared to $300 million in the immediate wake of Haiti earthquake in 2010.

So let us be clear—the disastrous denouement of Typhoon Haiyan was total and utter destruction for millions.

New York had a very small taste of the damage that natural disasters can bring when Hurricane Sandy struck our shores just over a year ago. Our friends and family in Staten Island, the Rockaways and Coney Island watched as their cherished homes and livelihoods were swept away by the storm surge. And as New Yorkers, we responded and rallied around our neighbors.

I urge the people of Queens to see the victims of Typhoon Haiyan just as they saw and were moved to action by the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I urge you to treat them as your friends, your family, your neighbors.

Which for many residents of the 16th Senate District, is true. According to a recent Asian American Federation analysis, Filipinos make up the fourth-largest Asian group in New York City, with most Filipinos living in Queens. The 16th Senate District alone is home to more than 10,000 Filipinos who mostly live in Elmhurst and Woodside, more than any other district in the state.

Last week, my colleagues Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and I joined many Queens-based Filipino groups to observe the one-month anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan at a candlelight vigil and to review fundraising progress.

I was proud to stand with them that night and I pledge to stand with them until the rebuilding effort in the Philippines is finished. I hope you will join us.

Contributions can be made to the American Red Cross specifically to support Philippine typhoon relief at www.redcross.org. Various Filipino such as organizations Gawad Kalinga are also accepting donations and are able to deliver services with very low overhead costs.

If you are unsure if a non-profit is reputable, you should check their rating on Charity Navigator.

Toby Ann Stavisky, the first woman from Queens County elected to the State Senate and the first woman to Chair the Senate Committee on Higher Education. She currently represents the 16th Senate District.

 

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Howard Beach’s P.S. 207 receives nearly $2M in storm recovery funds


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Twelve feet of water rushed into the basement of P.S. 207 during Sandy, leaving the Howard Beach school with over $2 million worth of damages.

Senators Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder announced Monday roughly $1.82 million is on the way for repairs.

“It’s been over a year since Sandy tore apart our schools in southern Queens and while we have all made significant progress there is still work to be done,” Goldfeder said. “This new funding will enormously help P.S. 207 rebuild and ensure our children receive the quality education they deserve.”

The FEMA federal funds will go to the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) and will reimburse 90 percent of the cost of repairs throughout the building.

The bulk of the damage was in the flooded basement, where a fuel oil tank rolled and spilled about 3,000 gallons of oil. Two boilers, electrical panels, lights, ductwork and the fire alarm system were also damaged.

The damage left the school without electricity, heat and water, and closed in the months following the superstorm. Nearly 90,000 gallons of water and oil was removed from the building before it could reopen.

“This infusion of federal money is helping P.S. 207 put the damaging effects of Hurricane Sandy in the rear-view mirror and enabling the school to get back to educating New York City’s children without crushing back-bills,” Schumer said.

 

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West Hamilton Beach fire crew gets new ambulances to replace ones lost during Sandy


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Over a year after Sandy, two shiny new ambulances pulled up to the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department to replace the ones the storm took away.

“Things like this bring back a positive morale,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who got a ride in one of the new rigs after they were delivered on Thursday.

“Anything we can do to get back to the point of how we were before Sandy, or better than we were before Sandy,” he said.

Before the superstorm, the crew moved one ambulance from the beach town, which is below sea level, to “higher ground” at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center on 84th Street. It survived, but sustained some damage. The other truck was unsalvageable.

After the floods ravaged West Hamilton Beach, the roughly 45-man department received ambulance donations from Long Island and has since been operating status-quo with two ambulances.

But now, more safety and security has been delivered with the brand new rigs, upping West Hamilton Beach’s ambulance count to four.

“This will be a help to the community like everything else,” said Jonah Cohen, the department’s fire chief.

Now, the emergency crew can work without worrying about a vehicle breaking down, Cohen said.

“They’re first responders who are in a unique, isolated area,” Addabbo said. “When there’s any kind of emergency, severe storm, everyone looks to them. I’m speechless by the work they do here.”

The fire department needs two ambulances to operate efficiently. They will primarily use the new vehicles, keep one for back-up and donate the last to another volunteer fire department.

“To get two rigs that could help in a life-endangering situation, this is a life-changer,” Addabbo said.

 

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FEMA releases preliminary flood insurance rate maps


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File photo

Preliminary flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) were released Thursday as the next step in FEMA’s coastal Flood Insurance Study.

Insurance rates could go up by hundreds of dollars for homeowners in flood-prone areas, specifically those in south Queens affected by Sandy. Maps will go into effect in 2015.

Following this release, a 90-day appeal and comment period will be opened in spring 2014. Those interested will be able to submit comments to the city online.

Once the appeal is over and all issues are resolved, FEMA will issue a Letter of Final Determination (LFD) to the city that will initiate a six-month adoption period before the maps become effective.

The city has additionally signed into law revised building codes which require standards reflect new and substantially improved structures as detailed in the preliminary FIRMs.

For more information on maps, click here.

 

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Star of Queens: Devon Michael O’Connor, president and founder, Welcome To Whitestone


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

image

NIKKI DJOKOVICH

Community Service: In 2011, Devon Michael O’Connor formed the non-profit Welcome To Whitestone Commercial and Residential Civic Association (WTW).  This fourth generation Whitestone resident gave other area residents and local businesses a voice backed by an association that would address their issues and concerns. WTW has formed relationships with other local associations, political leaders and city organizations in order to ensure action on the public’s issues and concerns. The association also promotes and produces family-fun events that benefit the local community.

Background: “This is my home. I’ve played in all the parks, graduated from the local schools and I shop in the local businesses. Now, as a business owner myself, I continue to urge the residents of Whitestone to support their local businesses,” O’Connor said.  To quote a friend of O’Connor’s, “It’s important to keep the unity in community.”

Favorite Memory: O’Connor’s most inspirational and spiritual memory is when he began collecting needed supplies for all who were affected by Sandy. Backed by an immense amount of support from the community, his civic group managed, in under 48 hours, to collect, sort and deliver over 600 large bags of food, clothing and toiletries to several shelters in the Rockaways.

Biggest Challenge: “One of the biggest challenges I faced was overcoming the political opposition I received when forming my civic group,” O’Connor said. He is very grateful for the Whitestone community being so accepting of the various projects that WTW has implemented.

Inspiration: O’Connor is inspired by individuals that understand that the future is a direct result of what is done in the present. Also by the people who are able to find solutions to the problems that others may have given up on. “If your goals are for the purpose of benefiting others in a positive way, the word ‘can’t’ is not an option,” says O’Connor.

 

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$50 million to protect Howard Beach from storms


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Howard Beach homes will now be protected, starting at the coast.

Spring Creek and Jamaica Bay will undergo a multi-million dollar resiliency project that Governor Andrew Cuomo said will better protect homes and businesses from destructive storms.

“Like several other communities located by the water, Howard Beach suffered incredible damage from storm surges during Sandy,” Cuomo said. “To strengthen Howard Beach against future flooding and storms, we are moving forward on a major project that improves the natural infrastructure along Spring Creek and the Jamaica Bay coast, with the approval of federal funding.”

About 3,000 homes were damaged during Sandy in the low-lying community.

Roughly $50 million will go towards engineering, designing and executing this project, which will cover 150 acres. Excavation, re-contouring and re-vegetation will be implemented by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to create a self-sustaining system of wave-dampening barriers intended to reduce storm damage.

“Addressing the flooding problem in Howard Beach is long overdue,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “A project like this cannot happen fast enough.”

Low and high level vegetated salt marshes, as well as dunes and elevated grasslands will be used to protect the community against future storm surges, similar to the floodwaters experienced during Sandy, and a rise in sea level.

About 765,000 cubic yards of material will be dug up across the site and reshaped into an elevated area, and 40,000 cubic yards of sand will be imported and spread across the site.

“I am most interested in the timeframe of this major project, since flood mitigation is a serious concern for my constituents, and the scope of this project is to ensure all parts of Howard Beach, inclusive of New and Old Howard, as well as Hamilton Beach,” Addabbo said.

Mitigation will be done along the eastern shore of Spring Creek on the north shore of Jamaica Bay. The site is bound by the Belt Parkway to the north and a series of roadways to the southeast, including 78th Street, 161st Avenue, 83rd Street, 165th Avenue and Cross Bay Boulevard. It comprises the western and southern perimeter of Howard Beach.

 

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Howard Beach storm survivors lend hand to Typhoon Haiyan victims


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

A local toy drive is going international.

Several medical practices from an area devastated by Sandy are collecting toys for children stateside and sending aid to those affected by the latest disaster in the Philippines.

Cross Bay Physical Therapy, Cross Bay Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation PC and Cross Bay Foot Center have partnered with Toys for Tots to revive the toy drive they have had in the past. This year, they are additionally collecting toiletries, canned foods, blankets and more for typhoon victims.

“We got hit with Sandy last year. We’ve been through a struggle,” said Dana Parker, manager of the three practices. “It’s another tragedy, and we have to help. We have to do something.”

Two of Parker’s employees have family in the Philippines, outside of th areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, who “know where to send the donations,” Parker said.

Parker said when the idea to pass donations along to the Philippines came about, the employees instantly jumped on board.

“They had a little bit of tears in their eyes,” she said. “Knowing what we went through last year, they were honored we even asked them to be the coordinators of collecting from the whole community.”

Donations started coming in on November 14 and will be collected through December 12. For the toy drive, donations should be new, unwrapped and in their original packing. The group said toys for children ages 2 and under and 12 to 13 are most in demand.

Visit the office at 157-02 Cross Bay Boulevard, Suite 202, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., or Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants can additionally enter a raffle to win an iPod when they donate.

“We’re going to come together,” Parker said.

 

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Retired FDNY lieutenant featured in documentary series highlighting ‘unsung heroes’


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Coyne PR

John Nolan, retired FDNY lieutenant, worked to rebuild homes in Sandy-devastated communities after the superstorm and became one of the area’s many “unsung heroes.”

Now, Shell Rotella, an engine oil organization, has highlighted Nolan and several others in a short-form documentary series, “Unsung Heroes,” that tells the stories of these overlooked saviors and how their work and lifestyles are intertwined.

Nolan’s nearly five-minute clip opens up with the firefighter-turned-contractor pulling up to Breezy Point’s fire zone, which was reduced from over 100 homes to just rubble.

He said the night of the storm, the 500 active firemen in the neighborhood tried to save whatever they could after floodwaters rose high and a blaze broke out, catching quickly.

“Early evening when the fire started, it went to high winds, homes were catching fire one right after the other,” he said.

A shift in the wind allowed the Fire Department to get water on the houses that hadn’t yet started burning, but even still, the day after “it was just massive destruction everywhere,” Nolan said. “The entire community needed help.”

He and others from the fire “brotherhood” worked through the summer to get the beach front community back on its feet.

“We came together as the Fire Department always does and did whatever we had to do to get the people back into their homes,” he said. “It seems like every day is a sense of urgency; there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

He continued, “In Queens, you don’t judge a guy by how tough he is, by how many guys he can knock down. You judge a guy by how many times he can get back up,” he said. “That’s the Rockaway, Breezy community. They’re a resilient group of people.”

Nolan’s story and the other “unsung heroes” can be seen on www.youtube.com/rotellaunsung.

“Working on a project like “Unsung” really opened my eyes to the men and women working tirelessly to keep this country moving,” said Geoffrey Campbell, producer of the documentaries. “I have a newfound gratitude for the many people who put in long hours and work hard in a truck each day.”

 

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Bill calls for storm fund tracking, accountability


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Donovan Richards

One Queens pol wants to track storm recovery funds, promote accountability and avoid any potential of fraud for people still recovering from Sandy.

A new bill introduced by Councilmember Donovan Richards will monitor where the billions of federal, state and local dollars for superstorm recovery are being spent.

“The tracking bill will ensure contractors who accept public money for Sandy work, disclose the wages they are paying and where they hire workers,” Richards said.

The bill received 36 co-sponsors in the City Council, giving it a veto-proof majority.

All contractors will be required to disclose everything from the wages they pay workers to the area from which they hire these workers. An online database will track where and how the funds are spent.

Federal recovery grants recently amounted to $1.34 billion, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently tacked on an additional $104 million to repair low-income housing, according to various media reports.

“It has been over a year since Sandy, and many families are still looking for support to rebuild their communities,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who supported the bill. “The funds the city is allocating need to be spent wisely, and creating an online database will ensure those who are most in need will receive it.”

 

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Pol asks AG to investigate Sandy contractor fraud


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Sandy brought a wave of fraudulent fixes to south Queens, and one elected official wants them wiped out.

Following the superstorm, many affected residents fell victim to fraudulent contractors who “promised to rebuild their homes, but have either left before completing the job or disappeared with [their] deposit without performing the necessary repairs,” said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder.

Goldfeder wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, requesting he “immediately investigate” and hold all out-of-state and local fraudulent contractors accountable.

“Residents who have spent their hard-earned money and savings to rebuild deserve to have the work done as promoted by their contractor,” Goldfeder said in his letter.

He said this is a “community-wide concern” in Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and Rockaway and many are “still struggling to finish repairs left from the storm damage.”

This October, Schneiderman prosecuted a Long Island based organization which “used deceptive practices in an attempt to obtain business from victims” of Sandy.

G.C. Environmental, Inc. of Bay Shore was fined $40,000 after mailing more than 2,000 letters resembling State Department of Environmental Conservation notices of violation to property owners who had suffered petroleum spills as a result of the storm, warning victims of an impending fine if they did not seek repairs.

Additionally, in July, Schneiderman filed lawsuits against four service stations in Kings, Nassau and Suffolk County Supreme Courts for gas price gouging following the storm. The attorney general’s office reached settlements with 25 stations, and additional investigations are pending.
Schneiderman’s office did not return a request for comment regarding Goldfeder’s letter.

“It is of paramount importance that we continue to help homeowners and revive our communities,” Goldfeder said.

 

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Cuomo announces $37M in projects to keep LaGuardia from flooding


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File photo

After Sandy forced LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to close last year for three days, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced $37.5 million in storm mitigation and resiliency projects to protect important infrastructure from future flooding.

“Sandy forced us to reevaluate how we prepare for and respond to major natural disasters in New York,” said Cuomo. “The question is not if another storm will hit, but when, and the state is doing everything it can to ensure that New York’s infrastructure is strong and durable when the time comes.”

Last year during Sandy, LGA’s airfield was flooded by more than 100 million gallons of water from Flushing Bay, causing the airport to cease commercial flight operations for three days. The surge flooded the five high-capacity pump houses which the airport depended on to drain any water.

The five projects announced by the governor include the installation of flood barrier raised banks around the West Field Lighting Vault, which houses runway and taxiway lighting systems, and construction of a concrete flood wall around the West End Substation that is key to powering the airfield systems.

The other projects feature construction of two gravity drains that will release storm water into Flushing Bay, replacement of existing generators with bigger and more efficient emergency back-up generators, and restoration of LGA’s monitoring and control system, to allow the airport to quickly monitor and deal with any issues with its electrical distribution system.

“Projects like these will significantly improve flood protection and electrical resiliency at LaGuardia and throughout the state,” said Cuomo. “New York State government is working every day to build back better than before.”

Federal funds are expected to cover $28.1 million of the total project costs.

 

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Church destroyed by Sandy is rededicated to Howard Beach


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

After Sandy destroyed their church, St. Barnabas wasn’t sure they would ever get back on their feet.

“Whenever there was a disaster, we’re the ones people come to,” said Debra Pignatelli, St. Barnabas official. “We couldn’t help anyone, we were totally devastated ourselves.”

The church sustained roughly five feet of water and the majority of its infrastructure was damaged, as well as tables, chairs and other items used for the many meetings held at the site.

The Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, civic groups, Sunday school-goers and Alcoholics Anonymous were some of the groups that had to find alternative meeting places, as the church was holding a limited number of events.

But, after $150,000 in repairs, $75,000 of that in electrical work, Pignatelli said the church is back to operating at about 80 percent, barring a kitchen makeover. All of the money came from private donors.

After the tireless community effort, the church was rededicated earlier this month to the parish and to Howard Beach.

“If you had asked me two months after the storm if we would be here now, in this place, with what we have and what people have gifted us, I would have never believed it, honestly,” Pignatelli said. “It has been pretty miraculous how people have stepped up.”

 

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Record numbers, heightened security at NYC Marathon


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of New York Road Runners

The safest place in the country may have been the route of the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday.

NYPD officers trolled the race, guarding runners and spectators alike, because of terrorism concerns caused by the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year, in which three people died and hundreds were injured.

A record 50,740 runners from around the world competed in this year’s ING Marathon, which was cancelled last year due to tremendous damage by Superstorm Sandy.

“My point of view is you can’t live like that,” said Joseph Gordon, a Queens Village resident who ran the marathon for the first time. “Living in New York it’s dangerous just to step outside my house. The NYRR [New York Road Runners] did a good job being careful and improving security.”

The marathon, which travels 26.2 miles around the five boroughs, featured more police officers along the course than previous years, some with bomb-sniffing dogs. Officers also checked spectators’ bags at certain locations, among various other reported counter-terrorism tactics.

As a result the race proceeded safely and featured fierce competition, dominated by Kenyan runners.

In the men’s race, Geoffrey Mutai defended his NYC Marathon 2011 crown with another win. He finished with an official time of 2:08:24. Priscah Jeptoo won the women’s division with a time of 2:25:07.

Gordon said the return of the race brings the city a little bit closer to normalcy.

“I think it’s really important to New York, the fact that it’s in all the boroughs and a lot of people were affected [by Sandy],” he said. “It’s not something that New York needs, but that the people of New York needed. It’s like a morale booster.”

 

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Bill could delay flood insurance hikes for Sandy victims


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Flood zone residents can rest easy for now ‑ as impending increases in flood insurance have been put on the backburner.

Congressmembers Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries co-sponsored the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Care Act of 2013, legislation meant to address the flood insurance rate increase and “keep residents from being priced out of our community,” Meeks said.

In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which would require the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to raise flood rates to reflect “true flood risk” for a policyholder, according to FEMA.

As a result of the act, residents said that over time, their rates could get as high as $30,000 a year. Rallies protesting the price hikes were held nationwide in September, including one at the Broad Channel American Legion Hall, which brought in hundreds of residents.

“We’d like to think we played a small role,” said Dan Mundy, Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association. “It’s a really important first step. We hope to maybe have some input on this.”

The insurance affordability act imposes a four-year delay for certain primary residences. It also mandates FEMA complete an affordability study, which will take two years.

The new bill also allows FEMA to reimburse policyholders who successfully appeal a map determination.
Meeks and Jeffries worked with over 80 other members of Congress to pass the act and “fix” the NFIP, he said.

He vows to work with colleagues “across the aisle” to ensure the bill is signed into law and successfully implemented.

“The painful devastation we experienced during Sandy brought us together to get this done, but it was the resilience and commitment to rebuilt from the people of Rockaway that served as inspiration to make it happen,” Meeks said.

 

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