Letter to FEMA on Denial of Reasonable Accommodation. 12-27-13

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Joint Field Office / Hurricane Sandy
Federal Coordinating Officer / Disaster Recovery Manager

RE: Reasonable Accommodation in Temporary Housing

December 27, 2013

Dear Federal Coordinating Officer:

As you are aware, FEMA stopped paying for my temporary housing, despite Stafford Act Protections for disabled individuals, on September 15, 2013, when they removed all able-bodied individuals from Hotels, ending the Temporary Housing Assistance Program.

As you know, xxxxxxx xxxxx, your predecessor, repeatedly committed to keeping me at this hotel, renting this room under a Direct Lease Program, if the TSA Program ended, until I could return home. I had personal conversations with Xxxxxxx and Xxxxx xxxxxx on this: he designated a “team” specifically to work on my case. They were the only FEMA allowed to speak with me: he removed all my personal information from the system. I was not contacted again until xxxxxxx xxxxx was leaving FEMA in June 2013 for a job with a different agency.

I am still in a hotel solely and exclusively because FEMA missed Substantial Damage in their Inspection of my house and gave me an unreasonable repair grant of $5,035 for my substantially damaged, and now toxic, house.

You have read my medical files, documenting medical limitations and hazards: why I require special options and consideration in housing. Let us be clear, my home accommodated all my needs: my home is not available to me now! I am adjudicated permanently totally disabled for 36 years and the grave implications of my unusual condition are voluminously documented. Despite this information, FEMA removed me from Temporary Housing Assistance at the Best Western Hotel: and, against my will, forced me to the DHAP/HUD Program. DHAP/HUD claims I am not their responsibility: I am FEMA’s responsibility, repeatedly refusing to help me in any way whatsoever. DHAP/HUD, like FEMA, is completely unprepared, unwilling and it would seem unable to deal with special needs, special circumstances, or disabled individuals: dismissing, denying, placing a whole class of people in terrifying jeopardy.

I filed two housing Appeals: to FEMA. The first was filed exactly as FEMA Agents told me to do, on 12-29-12. It has been posted on the internet since 2012 and repeatedly discussed with FEMA. An Appeal was filed by my attorney on August 22, 2013: a 504 Request for Reasonable Accommodation. Neither Appeal was answered. After assuring me the proper people were working on it for months, FEMA finally told me of the first appeal, “We do not answer Appeals. A non-answer was received on the 504 Appeal, saying if I attended DHAP Orientation FEMA “might” consider it. I did so. There has been no response from FEMA. However, I was told that FEMA flipped the 504 responsibility over to HUD. HUD is ignoring me.

BE Advised:

-FEMA has extensive medical documentation that it is hazardous to my health to relocate me to an apartment.
-I paid the hotel bill for the past seven weeks. I am out of money.
-The Rental Assistance/Transient Accommodations grant issued on 11-30-12, in the amount of $4,695.34 (which I tried to return to FEMA Agents at Cedar Creek Park 4 times and was rejected with. “We know you have related expenses. That is your money.”) Was exhausted on Temporary Housing. You have that documentation in your hands.
-I am participating in the BuyOut/Acquisition Program of NY Recreate. I was told several months ago that Resolution would take 2 to 6 months. I have no control of their timeline. The alternative to a BuyOut of my Substantially Damaged, Toxic house would be NY Rising Rebuild Program, which would be a hardship for me to begin after 14 months of futile repair attempts on a home that floated off its foundation and must now be bulldozed and elevated 12 feet.
-I was told by your legal department through Mr. Xxxxxxxx, by Xxxxx Xxxxx and Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxx, that there is $8,600 in my FEMA file (because you miscalculated repairs on my totaled house), available to me, that can be used for housing and has been provided to others for this purpose. I request this money to pay my Hotel bill now, committed to and implemented by Xxxxxxx Xxxxx and his Disability Team as Reasonable Accommodation from January until June of 2013, when he left FEMA for employment at a different Agency.
-I have sent Hotel receipts. I expect those bills (in excess of the initial $4,695.34 grant I exhausted at FEMA’s direction) to be reimbursed in a timely manner and my housing at the hotel to be paid from the $8600 withheld by FEMA on my totaled house, pending NY Recreate Buy Out.
-Note: Under the Stafford Act you are not supposed to charge the disabled person for temporary housing.

Please do not compound this horrific sequelae by again putting the blame on me, for still being in a hotel. I am here solely because FEMA failed to identify substantial damage, validate and deal with disability compliance, follow protocol, answer voluminous, properly directed complaints, or to act in a timely manner. I have been injured and scarred by FEMA’s lack of response. I am asking you now to demonstrate good faith: to cease and desist distributing outlandish letters with a litany of falsehoods to officials, falsehoods that can be expeditiously disproven. You have wasted so many people’s valuable time and effort with this frivolous, cavalier tactic. I am reluctant to believe that FEMA is that incompetent.

When we make grave mistakes, it is most facilitative to admit them and try to mitigate the consequences in an equitable solution. Without a doubt, FEMA, DHAP//HUD are making a mockery of disability and literally killing disabled people, because they don’t know what to do with us. I have seen too many of my disabled friends die because of the way they were treated in this disaster system. Don’t make my beneficiaries litigate this case!! Be assured that I have tried, and will continue to attempt, to settle this matter amicably.

Let us work together to rectify the devastating consequences that the Disaster systems have visited upon myself and the disabled community. Disabled people should have been the first population sent back home, not the last.

Sincerely,
Wendy Wagner

cc:
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Charles J. Fuschillo
Congressman Peter King
Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy
Assemblyman Brian Curran
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg
Legislator David Denenberg

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My Toxic House – Substantially Damaged. 11-29-13

My Toxic House: Substantially Damaged. 11-29-13

It is a location, a place where you belong. Where nobody can take your pictures off the wall. And when it is suddenly torn away by a vile and violent cyclone, and systems and people hammer at you that you do not belong, pull the blankets from under you as you sleep, you hold tight to the polluted soil of your own sweet land.

I sit on my land every day, by my home of 48 years where I raised my sons, now a gutted, toxic death-trap. I sit in my accessible van that no longer functions as it should, because it is packed tight with suitcases, winter blankets, food and living necessities. I cannot use the mechanisms of the access seat. It is blocked and impotent by the trauma of my life.

The land grows dark. I sit still in my van with my service dog Pollyanna in my arms, staring at a fading rock garden that I carried stone by stone from forests, beaches and mountain streams: now raped by looters stripping what is left of me. My face and blouse are soaked with tears flowing from eyes never dry these days. Pollyanna licks the salt away. Eventually, she tires, rests her silky head upon my sobbing breast, then slides onto her fleecy coverlet, exhausted from comforting the inconsolable.

It is so hard, impossible, to function: and it is impossible for able-bodied people to understand problems they have never experienced. But for me, it is my new, horrific, terrifying reality. It is beyond my comprehension that a life that was so manageable, is now so hideously out of control. I am thrust into a world where I am an alien, a freak: a world of systems and people that have no tolerance for difference, for pain, or those who use equipment. I am so lost: isolated. I walk through a dark, bleak, compassionless wasteland that is life post-Sandy, alone. I am alone!

My neighbors approach me, as I weep in my van, with, “Bulldoze the house and leave. You are bringing down our property values, because your house is still obviously storm-damaged. We want people to forget this neighborhood was flooded, so we can sell.”

It hurts to be dismissed.. But, I understand property values, and wanting to forget, to go on. Beyond that, I understand that I am a metaphor: a visible reminder that it can all be gone in a moment: your home, your health, your life. I hate that people now see me for my inadequacies. I was such a productive, appreciated person before Sandy: making unprecedented differences for disabled individuals. How fragile are our roles in life. How fickle is the cruel fist of fate.that turned a massive cyclone to my yard.

With my house, it did not happen all at once. It has been a slow process of loss, upon loss, culminating in my house sucking the breath from me and leaving me unconscious on the floor.

In the beginning, all the insurance adjusters who inspected my house said it was “totaled” by Hurricane Sandy. They were empathetic to the $50,000 loss of my accessible equipment and environment, but powerless. I had $300,000 in homeowners insurance: $100.000 contents. I only had $14,600 in flood insurance, because I did not live near the water and that was the policy my agent gave me. I received the flood insurance and $275 from the Homeowners Policy, for food spoilage and a front door bashed in by the wind. It was leveling.

In the disaster equation, if you had any flood insurance, it hurt you with FEMA. Survivors say that rather than being rewarded for doing the right thing, paying premiums: those of us who did, were “punished” and those who did not were reimbursed many times more, for the same loss. This was just the first of a litany of puzzling realities and inequities in the disaster repair/restoration marathon.

Initially, all estimates said it would cost over $100,000 to restore my house, before discovery of the foundation damage. FEMA never validated Substantial Damage to my house. FEMA inspected my house and gave me $5,000 for repairs. What could they be thinking!!

My house was now gutted, but there were still gross brown stains where feces spilled out of the toilet bowl, slithering through bedrooms and living room, and sewage bashed in the metal front door, splattering its imprint into my cement front porch. Mold crept deep into the walls, floors and floated visible in the acrid air. My house was initially sprayed for sewage and mold. It was declared safe. Six weeks later, a Mold Expert consulted, reported the house must be “Shocked,” then scrubbed down. Eight men cost me $4,000. He said it was the only way we could be sure the mold would not return. Afterwards, the house looked spotless.

In June I got the first indication that there was structural damage to my house. FEMA requested an inspection of my house by the Town: an inspection denied in November because Town inspectors said the house was “contaminated” and they could get “Hepatitis”. But in June, FEMA Program Directors claimed if the inspection revealed substantial damage, they could award me total: $31,900. Then, I would be allowed to apply for the Empire State $10,000 Grant. They assured me, “We accept a Building Department report over our own.” However, when it validated structural damage, foundation damage, FEMA declared, “You are not getting one penny more!”

White cottony puff-balls floated through my gutted house and clung to the walls. It was sprayed again for mold. In August, after further demolition of the walls and removal of objects and insulation from the attic suggested further contamination, the house was “Shocked” one last time and scrubbed, to death.

On September 20, 2013, I entered my gutted house, dreaming of holidays at home and pretty colors. How could I know a malevolent force had taken up residence in my personal space, and made my home a deathtrap. Insidiously, it overcame me, the polluted air. As I became increasingly dizzy, I did not notice my eyes swelling, my throat closing, until severe stomach pain doubled me over. Nausea and headache overwhelmed me. I could not breathe. My head, my face: the pain. I could not get a breath. Darkness slashed me to the ground as I passed out smothering in sweet yesterdays, gone bad.

For days I could not move my head, from excruciating pain in my face. I developed respiratory infection and rashes. Pollyanna woke up the next morning throwing up bile. She gasped and struggled for air all night. I sat outside my hotel room giving her oxygen and holding onto her life all that long dark night: I would not let her go. My doctor said, never go into that house again. It was terminal.

NY Rising, Governor Cuomo’s loan-to-grant Program touting restoration help for Sandy Survivors, sent me a letter offering a $145,000 Loan-to-Grant to “Elevate and Restore or Bulldoze and Rebuild” my house. I inquired, and like other homeowners, I was told it was not enough: it would cost at least $200,000. It is about $100,000 just to elevate the house. Also, the Program requires that the homeowner own and also live in the house for 3 years after receiving the loan, for it to become a grant. Many homeowners want to rebuild to recover equity in the house, and sell. The goal of this Program is to repopulate the land and revive devastated neighborhoods.

Now, I was being told that I had to elevate my house, repair it, and live in it for five years in order to forgive the debt, and that a ramp to that elevation would go around the whole house. Floodplain codes and costs for piecing my tattered house back together were making returning home increasingly impossible, for the lady in the wheelchair.

I told everyone I wanted a meeting with the Governor. There was a New York State BuyOut Program for totaled houses. But they were presently only considering clusters of houses and houses on the shore. Mine was neither. But, I felt my house qualified, except for the cluster and shore rules. And, I had observed that some Programs were being modified as time passed and justification became clearer. Then, after I passed out in my house, amazingly, I heard that they might be considering individual homes for BuyOut.

Be careful what you wish for! Considering a BuyOut is bittersweet, at best. In addition to the loss and trauma of the decision, the NY Rising Program airs commercials stating, “We are New Yorkers. We are stronger than the storm. Our communities are rising, better than before.” They make you feel like a loser because you are never going home: like you are giving up. In reality, there are few choices in this disaster equation: only best worst options.

NY Rising is a vendor-based Rebuild/Rehabilitate Program. That means, the State designates a fixed ceiling of money to be paid to contractors not homeowners, to restore your home to the same footprint, at basic quality, using new building and flood codes. The Program is faulted and disorganized: it is being designed in progress; rebuild allowances are unrealistically low; contractors are being paid in unfair increments, so many will not participate; and payment is extremely slow (Only 4 of 4,000 applicants have to date received any payment on their house.). It is a loan to grant program: the homeowner must own and live in the house for 3 (originally 5) years before it becomes a grant.

The BuyOut Program is called NY Recreate. NY State will purchase shoreline and high-risk houses at assessed value before the storm. This land is no longer habitable and may be used for parks. It was originally offered only to clusters of homes. Presently Buy Outs are only offered in Suffolk County. Recently certain individual “substantially damaged” homes are being considered for “Acquisition.”. The cash amount to a homeowner is low, but better than the un-repaired market value post-Sandy. The problem with this Program is that the “sale” price is not enough to replace the house with a similar house, in the same geographic area. Homeowners are devastated by the loss of place, often Long Island.

After 13 months of very intensive work, of being denied, and passed over by every program and charity, and putting $23,000 in repairs into my house, my house was overcome by chemicals and died a horrible death, leaving me stranded in the cold, cruel season of Good Will to All men: sitting on a building lot demolished by ax-slinging maniacs by mistake. When well-meaning people wish me a “Happy Holiday,” I wonder why they cannot see me bleeding.

NY Rising and NY Recreate require a Letter of Substantial Damage to proceed. This became my first clear definition of what was wrong with my house. Surely if I had this information when FEMA inspected my house, when they insisted that I put the heating system and electric in, I would have made different decisions.

“It was determined by inspection by the area building inspector that the floodwaters reached an average of five to six feet around and in the home. The water inundated the sub grade crawl space resulting in the entire building being shifted off the foundation and in some areas actually washing away the existing masonry blocks. The damage to the foundation and floor joists of the home has resulted in deflections many structural framing elements. The entire dwelling has shifted off the foundation. The Department of Building has therefore determined that the dwelling has been substantially damaged….”

I do not live on the water, or close to the water. But my house is slightly south of Merrick Road, on land that was once marshland. We never even got water in the street, unless leaves block the storm sewer: you rake them away, the water is gone. I would have been in my house, in my hospital bed that went on fire, with my service dog, if my sons had not nagged me out of the house. How vulnerable our decisions make us.

So there it is in black and white, on the day of SuperStorm Sandy, October 29, 2012, my house was fatally injured by a post-hurricane cyclone. I tried to breathe life back into her, but the diagnosis was wrong and she was too weak to survive the timeline of broken systems. On that day, my life was changed by the fickle fist of fate, forever!

Life post-Hurricane Sandy is a nightmare: of failed systems, apathy, toxic houses and substantially damaged people. No one cares about the agony of broken homeowners trying to stand brick on top of brick, in gunk. Everyone is broken in some way, limping through moldy cobwebs, gagging on sour milk. Priorities of programs and systems are gutted structures and paperwork, not people. Every day I wake to the stench of my life now, the reality that today will be worse than yesterday: as my body falls into irreversible loss, medical disaster, invisible to others. The reality of escalating loss is grounding, liberating, empowering.

People strive to regain some semblance of normalcy and financial stability in the horrific scenario called recovery – non-help, inequity. Process, procedure and outcomes shout down humanity. The weak are trampled. As we grow stronger, as the shock of Sandy trauma becomes our new reality, we understand we are our own best help. We are stronger than systems and cruel fate. Men climb up on the rubble of their land, are energized by their own autonomy, and wade through the sewage to the other side, conquerer: stronger, wiser, sadder than before.

Bulldoze the House! 9-28-13

Bulldoze the House! 9-28-13

It is eleven months tomorrow, since my house went down in SuperStorm Sandy, since everything that was my life ended, and life became one dark hotel room that most days I cannot leave because I have become too sick without my medical equipment. Today, I am awaiting answers for new-found, soon to be broken, promises. Brand new requirements and emerging rules are being shoved down our throats, as helpers back off once more, intimidated by bureaucratic intervention aimed at rectifying the initial disaster management mistakes: all this at the expense of the last homeowners still standing un-renovated.

Municipalities and building departments that closed their eyes immediately after the SuperStorm, and let homeowners patch together houses with substantial damage, and inhabit them, are now redefining the rules, erecting insurmountable barriers, and preventing unfinished homeowners from restoring their homes as others were originally allowed, preventing return to home. Agencies are now demanding outrageous expense of homeowners and unprecedented structural modifications: proposing turning our scenic coastline into a grotesque collage of towering cement and staircases. We are told that officials want every house on the south shore of Long Island elevated.

Governmental agencies and hastily-formed committees plan permanent modifications to our land and communities, overreacting, instead of analyzing, evaluating, misunderstanding our environment and Long Islander’s relationship with the land, and the sea. Federal, state, local agencies and charities are conducting chat meetings to discuss the failures of the disaster/restoration process and results, untrained in the task at hand, receiving huge salaries, coffering millions in allocated and donated funds.

The Concert money, donated by well-meaning ordinary people to help their neighbors, is withheld from the neediest, by charities facilitating slow-moving non-programs helping a paltry handful of people. Federal, state and donated monies are eaten by administrative costs/salaries, not filtered to the people, failing recovery.

Gloom moves over the restoration process, as prejudicial treatment of homeowners located on newly drawn flood plains, spreads panic, and threatens destitution, bankruptcy and permanent homelessness. Families inhabiting the wetlands for generations are forced from land their great great grandparents were born on, not by fear or inability to cope, but by new prohibitive government financial barriers, rules and regulations proposed to prevent this from happening next time. Can one really predict how high the tides of the next freak event will rise?.

New York State set up the NY Rising “Grant” Program, that is bankrupting, the neediest. Applying to that Program has become the criteria “charities” are using to give people assistance. The “charities” are demanding to be paid by NY Rising for providing “free help.” People who do not apply to NYRising are summarily refused “free help” and/or materials by charities. NY Rising funds, are charged to the homeowner for five years, before they become a grant. Also, the five-year clause requires that the homeowner not only own the house, but also live in it, for five years after receipt of funds. This way, the State proposes to repopulate neighborhoods and ensure that communities continue to exist. However, the Program is hurting homeowners: because it takes choice away from the homeowner, who cannot freely choose to stay in his home or leave, it allows for no special circumstances, and because no charity will help him if he does not pay them with NY Rising Funds: it excludes him from help from almost every other program. Also, NY Rising is “recommending every home that applies elevate the house,” at a price tag of almost $100,000. Houses on flood plains and low elevation that do not follow the recommendation and elevate, face astronomical flood insurance rates next year.

Programs are staffed by hastily-trained people, operating with cell phones disconnected. Programs are failing the neediest. Charities are stockpiling money and supplies. Everyone gives a different answer: nobody knows nothing. The system is making it impossible for those left standing, withholding Certificates of Occupancy so that people cannot live in their homes or sell them, unless they elevate them. New rules and regulations penalize homeowners on flood plains, and those who have not yet restored their homes. Destitute homeowners are forced to take out outrageous loans to elevate homes they cannot even live in, or walk away from their homes penniless. The Federal government, off nation-building, ignores the financial burden to the Survivors of SuperStorm Sandy, providing little help filtering down to the people of America.

The media has hurt Sandy Survivors . They report that survivors are receiving lots of money from agencies, charities, donations. Most people have received a pathetic pittance: many nothing. The media spotlights a few individuals as enduring glaring hardship. The truth is, some people recovered quickly, because they used their bank accounts, erroneously believing they would be reimbursed. But most people are still living in substandard, hazardous conditions. Everyone is enduring glaring hardship. There is no help for Sandy Survivors!! Survivors need assistance, answers, results and resolution, now, when their children are breathing mold, sleeping in closets and eating ramen noodles off paper plates resting on cardboard boxes, standing up in back yards.

I remember the 1950’s, when there was a cycle of hurricanes in our area. At that time, we had a flood above the windows every two years. We were prepared. We understood our environment and weather patterns, and functioned within its perimeters. We helped each other. Neighborhoods came together.

During Sandy, no one warned communities in time. All the way up the coast, the media and officials told the public, the winds were only 75 mph. They didn’t warn of significant danger until the last few hours. We had so little time to prepare. The public was misled by officials. Officials and government were not prepared. Well into it, they could not even decide how to categorize this storm. The indecision and confusion of officials compromised the public’s ability to respond, react and protect themselves in the havoc.

Given the progressively emerging insurmountable barriers and negatives bombarding Sandy Survivors and persecuting the suffering middle-class homeless, I am second-guessing myself. A shrill voice inside of me scolds, “Who gave you the right to spend a year of your life like this? What were you thinking!”

My only defense is, I thought I could save my home. I thought it would be a month, maybe two. I believed hard work, government assistance, charity, support of community and country, were paths to success. After all, I lived through floods as a child. But that was a different time of community and official co-operative effort. I never imagined that when nature draws a line of demarcation, people do not cross it, and America only helps other countries in need, not her own people. We were all so naive.

When my house went down, my son said to me, “Bulldoze the house! Walk away! You cannot save it!”

I cried. I needed to fight for my home: otherwise, I would be a.victim, victim of a freak natural event. I did not know how to be a victim. I was a survivor of serious injury, cancer, and tragedy. Nothing could defeat me. My house was heavily insured. I paid off my house. I did not know how to be destitute. I did all the right things. I did not know how to surrender. I always won the battles.

Walking out of my stinking, gutted home recently, I said to my son, “You were right. I should have bulldozed the house.” When options deteriorate, choice narrows. Men lose hope: because hope is a bird whose wings fell off.

If I knew what I know now about the disaster recovery/restoration process, if asked to make a recommendation to another in this situation, without reservation, I would say, “Bulldoze the house. You have no idea how bad it can get, progressively, over time. Save yourself!!!”

FEMA De-Values Home! 3-17-13

word devaluation on the display of a calculator with euro bills

A house is not a home. A house is a structure, a definable space, an estimate-able property, a piece of real estate that can be transferred, knocked down, flooded. A home is history, sensation, comfort. recollection, security, sanctuary. The survivors of Hurricane Sandy each had a home: lost a home, treasures, a lifestyle. Some had a house.

FEMA validates a house but not home. However, FEMA has formulated its own definition of a house. A house is a shell: walls, floors, heat, electric. It is stripped-down, patched-together, barely safe or sanitary, space: basic function. And as Hurricane Sandy destroyed everything that many survivors owned, FEMA forces them back into barely safe, barely functional, empty shells. These are the people who have not been forced back into houses without walls, floors, electric, heat or mold removal, because FEMA abandoned them without explanation. These are the people whose houses did not float away, were not condemned. The people forced back into functional empty shells are the lucky ones. FEMA has down-graded the American dream: it is the American nightmare.

Tens of thousands have been forced to live outside of their homes, with no place to belong, under constant threat of eviction, unwanted, uncomforted, unclothed, because their home is standing, but totaled: and FEMA gave them a laughable grant, without explanation, without mercy. They cannot repair their houses, because there is not enough money to repair even one room: there are no walls, floors, bathroom, kitchen, electric, heat, not even a toilet bowl. There are no contents, furniture, belongings, left. Their home is nothing, only fertile soil where mold and bacteria breed. Every day their house moves closer to being condemned. These people wander about, bewildered, frustrated, disillusioned, terrified, ignored by the systems, denied by the general public: a class alone, living in an alternate universe, created by the SuperStorm, not living at all, pacing putrid time.

I first experienced FEMA when Hurricane Sandy destroyed my house, terminated
my home: wiped out my past, present and future. Before that, I only knew of FEMA through media reports. I believed the promise: I believed it helped people. Hurricane Sandy left 200,000 Americans along the East Coast homeless and destitute. All of the survivors experienced FEMA or chose not to.

My house was insured for $300,000. It was totally paid off, except for $3,700. The contents were insured for $100,000. I lost all of my furniture, belongings, most of my clothes, $50,000 in medical equipment and $10,000 in office equipment. FEMA, all Insurance, County, and Fire Inspectors said my house was totaled, with great sympathy. In November, the County declared my house too dangerous to enter without a respirator, because of sewage and mold contamination, and inspected it from the front yard. Some inspectors called friends to help me, and even offered to come back and put up walls. The houses in my neighborhood sell extremely fast, because it is close to bus, train, highways and parkways, stores, the bike path to the beach, and Ocean Parkway to Jones Beach. The school district is excellent. Houses in my neighborhood are a great investment.

I didn’t live on the water. I didn’t live near the water. My neighborhood never flooded before. I lived there for 48 years. But, I lived right above the Cedar Creek Sewage Treatment Plant. The houses on the west side of the street are four-floor splits, plus a basement. Most, lost the basement: some, lost the family room also. The houses on my side of the street are one-floor ranches: we all lost everything. Salt water was not the worst! Sewage damage was throughout the house: it seems that it came up the toilet and also in the front door. Sewage was on top of my hospital bed in the living room. There is a storm sewer directly in front of my house. Many people in my neighborhood believe that the Sewage Treatment Plant malfunctioned. Everything was lost to sewage contamination: a horrific way to let go of your lifetime keepsakes and tiny treasures.

I was told by eyewitnesses: from 7 p.m. until 12 a.m. water rose rapidly up from the ground; a river rushed up the center of the street toward Merrick Road; 6 feet of water entered my house. Those who stayed, report it was terrifying: the violence, the power of the water. I had water and sewage damage up to 48″ above the floor. It was like a tornado hit inside of my house: furniture, equipment, appliances, belongings, objects great and small, were thrown around with alarming violence, smashed and encrusted with sewage. I cannot get the putrid, acrid stench of devastation out of my nostrils. My hospital bed went on fire. My front door was torn off. A cinder-block wall outside the side door was thrown against the house.

That is the reality of the event and the loss. The reality of the response and the help, are a life apart. The survivors must deal with both. Inadequate response for restoration by governmental agencies has turned this Natural Disaster into a National Tragedy in America, and it has become our national shame.

While everyone realized, at the end, that the storm was huge, damage was devastating, and the victims included hundreds of thousands of survivors, the government did not react in a timely or effective manner for the magnitude of the event: management, personnel, funding, housing, emergency survival and support services, were inadequate. Response of FEMA, the agency designated to manage the event and aid survivors, was so slow, that it was extremely detrimental to the victims.

There was no housing, no food, no gasoline, no electric. We were told that FEMA could not bring in trailers to house the homeless, because the area was so congested. They did not bring in gasoline. Without gasoline and operating gas stations you had to remain close to your property or wherever you were going to bed, because if you used up the gas in your car it would remain where it stalled. And, they were dragging abandoned cars away to remote dumping grounds. There was no food. Fast food stands and restaurants alike, were closed down. They had nothing to sell, and no way to cook it. There was no way for the public to cook food, because most people, even if they had homes, had no electricity and no heat for weeks. There was little food, and less water, in the few supermarkets that were open.

The Red Cross handed out sandwiches and hot dinners, blankets, and cleaning supplies, after a few days, in devastated neighborhoods and parks, if you could get to them. They had boxes of donated used clothes, because most of us lost our clothes and shoes. For months, the Red Cross and churches were the only source of nutrition for many. It turned out that the local churches would become the most solid source of support for housing, food, cleaning and sanitary products, counseling services, and, ripping out, building and renovation assistance.

Six weeks after the event, houses were stripped of contaminated furniture, belongings, walls, floors, and insulation: FEMA finally put in an appearance – inspection. The reality, the inspector’s report, and what FEMA translated into money, would not agree! The FEMA inspector spent 1 1/2 hours inside my house, measuring and taking pictures. She was sympathetic, said she put in a strong report, and reported the case to the Special Needs Hotline. Nevertheless, FEMA ignored my case for six more weeks, denied I was disabled for three months, claiming they never got paperwork from my insurance companies, paperwork that I submitted three times.

But it turns out the waiting was the easy part. Then came the rape of the survivors, the stripping-down and dehumanizing of Hurricane Sandy victims, the abandonment by America of those in need of help. After 2 1/2 to 3 months of waiting and believing in the system promising support, the grant letters started arriving. The grants were outlandish, ridiculous, pitiful. After all of the time, phone calls, paperwork and documentation that FEMA demanded, they were insulting, to our efforts to cooperate. Decisions would have been ridiculous, except that they were not decisions at all, because there were no explanations: only one or two words prefacing the dollar amount. Grant letters are generic: one form letter for all purposes, written so that it says absolutely nothing. There is absolutely no transparency. Dollar amounts are so outlandish as to be irrational. Not just for me, but for most! Grant amounts translate into no help, and leave a survivor with the inability to renovate his house and reclaim his life.

Over and over this sad story resonates, while the media reports that FEMA is awarding each home owner $30,900, and that if people apply for the SBA Loan, they can receive up to $40,000 more for their possessions. I was not allowed by FEMA to apply for the SBA loan, because I am disabled and make so little. I was not allowed to apply for the $10,000 Empire State Grant, because in order to apply you must first receive the maximum FEMA Grant. Not even close! The public thinks SuperStorm Sandy victims are being taken care of. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth!

My house was totaled. All repair estimates came in at $105,000. The estimates are for house repairs/renovation only. I also lost all of my furniture, belongings and appliances; $50,000 in medical equipment; $10,000 in office equipment. Nothing was covered, because it was a flood. When I get back into my house, it will be empty: they will all be empty. On 1-11-2013 FEMA sent me a Grant letter designating $5,035 for “Home Repair” and $7,989.51 for “Personal Property” (which of course must go toward house repairs), for a total of $13,483.86. When I opened the letter and read it, I could not breathe. My house is totaled and FEMA allotted $5,035 for home repairs! My eyes clouded over and the words went away. I shuddered, as Obama walked across my grave. I could not believe what I was reading. It was a mistake! Reality could not be this horrific. Was I dead and I just didn’t know it yet? But, it was true: the second half of our nightmare was upon us, those of us in the alternate universe.

I appealed the Grant Decision and requested Re-inspection of my house. FEMA made a farcical pretense at re-inspection, sending an Inspector and a “Disability Expert”, who stood by the car and talked to me. They prefaced this meeting by explaining that they were going to evaluate the access, adaptive equipment and medical equipment loss. I asked how they could do that, when the house was stripped and gutted: totally empty, except for a hole in the floor where the toilet used to be.. Nothing was left! Being an access expert myself, I knew that FEMA officials were making no sense at all with this explanation. But an Inspector went into the house alone, and refused to accept my pictures of the losses. The Disability Expert stood by the car trying to convince me to sign a blanket authorization that they could share all of my information with whoever they chose. When I refused, he called their Legal Department and tried to get me to talk to them on his cell. When I refused, they sent a short middle-aged pit bull who threatened that they would do nothing to help me if I did not sign the paper. I refused. FEMA shared my confidential information anyway: ever since I submitted financial papers to them, I have been getting “we know you are destitute” letters and emails.

The FEMA re-inspection awarded me an additional Repair Grant for my totaled house of $645.45. I was incredulous, but half expected it. I never thought it was a legitimate attempt to reevaluate, given the fuzzy rationale they verbalized for re-inspection. I tried to get an explanation. I was told the amount was “appropriate” and we could manage, with “free help” available. I am hearing this story over and over.

We, the survivors excused the waiting, the redundancy, inefficiency, ineptness, nasty people, unanswered telephones, constant threats, because of the magnitude of the event. We believed that FEMA was trying to help us: we trusted the system. We tolerated dysfunction within the system, lack of comprehension of the implications and impact of the event on real people. But we learned that to FEMA, people are numbers: houses are numbers: nothing more! FEMA workers are apathetic caricatures, propagating unremitting loss, hopelessness, helplessness: highly paid, transient, serial, disaster trainees, who depersonalize and dehumanize pathetic, tattered people in need. The survivors of Hurricane Sandy have learned that, in response to natural disaster, systems break their promises and fail. There is no help!

Presently, FEMA lacks transparency, logic, rational process and procedure, organization, focus, humanity: it is so out of touch with reality, human suffering, recovery, restoration, and hope, as to make it non-functional and irrelevant. It operates with personnel so transient, they lack continuity, it lacks consistency. It is an out-dated and irrelevant system that has lost sight of people, human suffering, and home.

FEMA must be investigated, re-organized, up-dated, monitored and made accountable. It leaves battered, bewildered, broken people in its wake, not from the event, but from the lack of assistance after maximum effort and cooperation by the survivor: lack of empathy, humanity and because of the apathy of the program.

Since Hurricane Sandy the meaning of home has changed forever for hundreds of thousands of Americans, made refugees by the destruction, and by what FEMA has forced them to return to: “functional space.”. Many are not structures, or are structures that are not safe, are toxic, hazardous, barely habitable: houses without walls and floors, kitchens, furnaces, bathrooms. Agencies will not even pay for mold removal. Houses are being patched together by laymen, and quickly fail in functional use. FEMA strives to get people out of the system as quickly as possible. There is no follow-up. Homeowners of lost or totaled homes are forced to move on to rented apartments, rooms, couches, houseboats, trailers, mobile homes, RVs, basements, garages, yards: inappropriate accommodations, not long-term solutions.

Grants for restoration are pitiful. The condition of houses is demoralizing and horrific. Many of us have been without a home for five months because FEMA gave us an unrealistic, outlandish, repair grant. Many people just abandoned their homes and moved off Long Island, because they have no money to restore their houses, and no options for help.

The program does not return survivors to some normalcy after disaster. FEMA actually prevents people from getting real help, by delays, false and misleading promises of aid, and untimely, inadequate to the point of absurdity, final grants. When they are finished giving us nothing for our homes and property, all the ‘free help” is gone, used up, worn out. It prevents resolution, by overwhelming survivors with paperwork, documentation and denials; repeatedly losing, misplacing paperwork: by using vague, private, covert codes and processes to maintain limitless proprietary power and generate unclear, inadequate, ambiguous, cryptic decisions. There is no help: there is no transparency.

I do not claim there are not professional people at FEMA who try to do the right thing. But they are high-ranking, inaccessible, bound by out-dated processes and procedures, and their commitment to the survivor moves on with their next assignment location. The system is designed to thwart contact and communication, recovery and resolution.

In the end, FEMA gives survivors laughable assistance and tells them to go find a way to help themselves. It tells people they can restore their homes with the pittance that FEMA allotted, plus free help. Realistically, Hurricane Sandy free help is scarce, unskilled, empty promises, filled-up answer machines, hotlines manned in other states by people who disclaim knowledge of aid programs: unresponsive programs, services, and agencies: non-help. Meanwhile, our homes sit vacant, growing mold and bacteria, being looted and stripped, and receiving exploitive offers of buy-outs of the land by house flippers. The system is designed to benefit everyone except the survivor of disaster. Materials that were donated for rebuilding were withheld from homeowners, and are now being sold to contractors at huge profits. Benefit monies that were raised by famous people and concerts were not passed on to survivors. Everyone is profiting from Hurricane Sandy, while the homeowners are victimized and abandoned by systems breaking promise.. FEMA fails.

FEMA devalues houses, allotting cryptic, unrealistic, pitiful grants for legitimate house repair and restoration necessary due to natural disaster: using out-dated processes and procedures to evaluate and decide. Therefore, FEMA devalues home, the bedrock of society: disrespects people, the strength of our country; destroys hope, neighborhoods, chunks of America; and the next generation, the children who lost their nest, their toys, their rock.

The system does not work. FEMA needs to be re-evaluated, reorganized, up-dated, re-designed, monitored and made accountable. Americans devastated by disaster, people, our neighbors, our neighborhoods, are broken, bewildered and expiring, because FEMA does not help them: does not validate home, promote restoration or recovery. Through FEMA, America is abandoning, failing her own people miserably. We are survivors of Hurricane Sandy: we are victims of FEMA.

The survivors cannot rebuild their homes, because, without money, for years the survivors are going to be trying to patch their houses, their lives, their lifestyles together, with spit and sea grass. And, everyone knows what happens to houses made of grass.

Destruction – Photos after the Sewage Surge. 12-17-12