Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Charitable Efforts

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath Brings People Together

The Hurricane Sandy aftermath has caused people to come together and help victims in creative ways. Recently, a group of celebrities participated in a relief concert that was broadcast live all over the nation—the 12-12-12 concert—and $50 million of the raised funds were distributed through the Robin Hood Foundation. The first wave of funds came from telephone donations, ticket sales, merchandise sales and sponsorships. Music downloads, DVD/CD sales and auctions of signed merchandise and memorabilia will make up the rest of the donations.

The cream of the entertainment industry crop is often front and center with united efforts to solicit charitable donations during huge natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina and the devastating earthquake in Haiti also galvanized Hollywood’s best and brightest for a night of fundraising and music.

Other Hurricane Sandy Charitable Efforts

However, celebrities certainly aren’t alone in their charitable efforts. There is also an auction taking place on December 19th for Hurricane Sandy relief, wherein furnishings, art and d├ęcor fashioned from Hurricane Sandy debris will be sold. The pieces include table tops, lighting fixtures, wall art and chairs—all made from trash! The artists and designers participating in this auction are called Reclaim NYC.

Right after the worst of the hurricane, hot dog carts, taco vendors and burger trucks stationed themselves amid the worst of the wreckage, in the neighborhoods without power. The company Domino Sugar donated more than 30,000 pounds of products, including sugar, coffee, and powdered beverages to victims.

Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School Pajama Drive

With the Christmas season quickly approaching, many families will lack the resources to provide their kids with even a home to call their own, let alone toys and gifts. In the spirit of the season, students at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School held a pajama drive so that kids could get warm pajamas and books this Christmas.

Creativity is Key in Charitable Efforts

While it is important to continue channeling money and goods to all of the different organizations dedicated to helping the storm victims, it is also important to maintain a creative spirit when looking for solutions. Having different drives, auctions and concerts helps keep the altruistic fires stoked, and also helps people who might believe that they don’t have a voice contribute to the efforts. My brother Michael Omidi and I applaud all of the different ways people have decided to step up and help all of the communities that were forever altered by this terrible hurricane, and we hope that the spirit of generosity continues until everyone suffering from deprivation finally has a comfortable home again.

Julian Omidi on Stress Eating

High stress causes people to eat nutritionally devoid foods for comfort

Without question, everyone on the east coast was affected by Hurricane Sandy. Doubtless, everyone who lost a loved one, a home or a job is under an inordinate amount of emotional stress, and when we experience stress, many of us eat.

Hurricane Sandy linked to increase of stress eating

The aftermath of the super storm has people worried. Whether it is the pressure of cleaning up the debris, the strain of wondering if a home or business can be salvaged or concern over what will happen to children and elderly relatives, the mounting stress can lead people to compensate in unhealthy ways. Many people who once embraced healthy lifestyle choices are now finding themselves reaching for processed snack cakes, cookies and crackers; foods they didn’t consider touching before. These cravings have manifested themselves from the worry and dejection over trying to overcome problems that seem insurmountable.

Stress Eating can be Addictive

The problem with these cravings is that they are self-perpetuating. Consuming fatty, sugary and salty snack foods can cause a chemical reaction in the brain resulting in a feeling of euphoric calm and quick satiation. Regular consumption of these foods can cause the body to feel sluggish and tired, making us more susceptible to stressors. Once again, we seek comfort in those same sugary and fatty foods. If these foods are consumed on a regular basis, or on occasions when we feel taxed, there is clinical evidence to suggest that it can turn into a form of addiction.

Residents rush to eat food they hoarded in preperation for Hurricane Sandy

Many residents without power began a type of food hoarding; loading up on packaged foods that would keep without refrigeration, and hurriedly eating their refrigerated foods before they spoiled. Ordering pizza, burgers, fries and other greasy takeout became the only option for people who weren’t sure when their electricity would return, and many would eat huge portion sizes that they would ordinarily save for another meal. Boredom eating is also a factor. While huddled in their homes and waiting for the storm to hit, residents sat, watched the news and ate.

Recovering from stress eating addiction

Unfortunately, because stress eating is also stress inducing, recovering from a junk food spell lasting several months is very difficult. It is important to learn stress coping methods that help in both the long and short term. Many people turn to meditation or yoga in order to relieve stress. Physical activity elevates mood and reduces feelings of anxiety. There are also certain foods that have been shown to reduce stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol and increasing seratonin. Complex carbohydrates like whole grain breads and oatmeal stabilize stress hormones and regulate blood sugar levels. The vitamin C in oranges also helps regulate cortisol. Other great stress reducing foods are magnesium rich spinach, salmon, black tea, almonds and milk.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Julian Omidi on Hurricane Sandy Public Housing Defaults

Julian Omidi is a cofounder of the charity No More Poverty with his brother Dr. Michael Omidi. In this article, Julian Omidi discusses the plight of the elderly and disabled public housing tenants who still have no access to electricity, water or gas, even more than a month after the storm.

NY Public Housing Still Suffering from Lack of Service

New York City public housing is still suffering from lack of service more than one month after Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The suffering is felt most acutely by residents in the more remote areas of the Rockaways, Red Hook, and Coney Island. New York’s public housing authority is reporting that, while there were mandatory evacuations issued prior to the “Super Storm,” these were not heeded in many of the public housing units, since many of the older and infirm residents felt relatively secure. However, it was not anticipated by these residents that the heat, electricity, water and gas would take so long to be restored. Many disabled residents are trapped at the top of their public housing towers due to power outages that rendered the elevator systems unusable. Some chronically ill residents are rationing their medications because they cannot access or afford to get new supplies. Carbon monoxide poisonings are rampant from tenants that are using their ovens and burners for heat.

FEMA Volunteers Discover Tenants Cannot Contact Offices

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began sending representatives to public housing complexes to hand out vouchers and check on the residents, many of whom hadn’t been out of their buildings in weeks. Because the requests for federal aid were significantly lower than what was anticipated, FEMA planners were dispatched to find out why. It was because the tenants couldn’t contact the offices. Extra food stamps that were issued to people whose food was spoiled by the storm and lack of refrigeration were never redeemed, likely because the people who received them couldn’t reach grocery stores. The city of New York didn’t even have a tally of how many public housing residents were trapped in their apartments. Moreover, there wasn’t a number of how many of those residents were in direct peril from health complications or lack of food and water. Even as mayor Bloomberg gave press conferences and issued statements that declared that everyone, or almost everyone, in New York City Public Housing would have power and services restored, it became apparent how many people were still in dire straits. Volunteers reported finding diabetic tenants without insulin and wheelchair-bound people trapped at the top of stairwells.

Although the immediate aid response after the hurricane hit was generally believed to be outstanding, many of the people in these housing complexes are still waiting for answers as to why, when much of the city’s power has been restored, they are still without heat and reliable electricity.

Private Charities and Organizations More Successful than Public Counterparts

Fortunately for many of the public housing residents, private charities and organizations seemed to be able to intervene more effectively than their public counterparts. Medical teams organized and went looking for trapped residents and ice and batteries were distributed to people with no power. Public officials began taking their cues from the efforts of the volunteers, and started to organize hospitals and assistance stations based upon the logs and reports of the private volunteers.

With the help of private charities, federal and city officials are beginning make the exhaustive search through the public housing towers and giving supplies and assistance to those who are still trapped inside. Now that city officials have a slightly better grasp of the enormity of the situation, it seems hopeful that everyone who is still suffering from the effects of the storm will receive aid.

Julian Omidi on Hurricane Sandy Housing Aid Workers and Victims

Julian Omidi on Hurricane Sandy Housing for Aid Works and Victims

Julian Omidi is a philanthropist and cofounder of the charitable initiative No More Poverty with his brother Dr. Michael Omidi. In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the housing situation post-Hurricane Sandy for both the storm victims and relief workers.

Aid Workers stay aboard Merchant Marine Training Ships

With housing scarce for New York residents who found themselves homeless after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, where were the aid workers who traveled from Washington, Virginia and Pennsylvania going to stay? The answer is: aboard Merchant Marine training ships.

More than 1,000 aid workers were dispatched by the federal government to provide relief to the many thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Sandy. The teams have been working nonstop providing relief, outreach and recovery, and because there are so few vacancies in the New York hotels, the easiest and least expensive alternative was to install the workers on military training ships that are docked in the Bronx and Staten Island.

Because the workers spend so much time in the field working with victims, they only needed a place to bathe, have a meal and sleep for a few hours every night. The training ships offered classroom facilities as well, so that the FEMA directors could conduct orientation and assignment training sessions. The ship is outfitted with bunk beds, group showers, lockers, a mess hall and even a bar, where workers can occasionally meet and unwind.

Housing Situation for Storm Victims Unresolved

The housing situation for the storm victims is still unresolved. Many of the residents that were left homeless after the storms rendered their dwellings uninhabitable are staying in Manhattan hotels, although for many of them, it is uncertain for how long. Ironically, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently discarded a plan to house the storm victims on luxury cruise ships from the end of December until May, stating that cruise ships were used for housing after Hurricane Katrina, and the result was unsuccessful.

The scramble in New York for temporary housing has been replaced by a scramble to repair the damaged homes, so that residents can move back into their residencies without having to transition into temporary shelters. Thus far, 400 of the approximately 100,000 damaged homes have been completed.

New Jersey is faring somewhat better in the housing situation. It was announced that new temporary developments are being developed at Fort Mammoth, a former military facility. According to a prepared statement issued by Richard Constable, Community Affairs Commissioner of the New Jersey Disaster Housing Task Force, “A very high percentage of displaced households were staying with family and friends when they registered with FEMA. However, as some of these housing situations become unsustainable, residents who have been unable to secure available, affordable housing will need additional temporary housing alternatives.”

Now that the demand for relief workers is diminishing somewhat, there aren’t as many federal workers being housed aboard the training ships. This might come as a relief to many of the workers, who have found it difficult to become accustomed to life in New York. Apparently, the stress of riding the subways outweighed the stress of working with the hurricane victims.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Environmental Concerns: Hurricane Sandy

Environmentalists worried about millions of gallons of raw sewage

One of the most costly and persistent after-effects of the Hurricane Sandy disaster might be the flood of partially treated and untreated sewage from several east coast sewage treatment plants. Not only might this be a health crisis of epic proportions, it is estimated that it might cost more than $1 billion to repair. Public health officials and environmental advocates are very concerned about the effect millions of gallons of raw sewage will have on the waterways, bays and beaches.

Before sewage is released into oceans and waterways, it is processed in order to remove bacteria, toxins and solids. After Hurricane Sandy, the circuitry in the electrical equipment shorted in numerous treatment plants have caused the sewage to flow into the waterways in its raw and dangerous state.

Sewage plants in the region are nearly all located near sea level and are therefore susceptible to the violence of storm surges. Additionally, many plants were built several decades ago, and were not constructed to support so large a population.

Drinking water was not affected by the damage to the plants, according to officials, because they operate on separate systems. However, restrictions of water usage were imposed in order to alleviate some of the stress on the treatment plants.

Last year, Hurricane Irene caused a raw sewage flooded residential streets and lawns of Barnes Avenue in Nassau County from the loose manhole covers. The county responded by bolting the manhole covers in place, but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the pressure of the wastewater running around them led to the erosion of much of the road, and the flood of raw sewage entered homes along with the flood water, causing the residences to be uninhabitable. In order to be decontaminated thoroughly, the homes must be stripped down to the frames. Department of Health officials went door to door distributing pamphlets delineating the health risks of raw sewage, and encouraging residents to vacate until a proper assessment can be performed. Raw sewage can breed salmonella, Hepatitis A and other dangerous diseases, and many homes might not be habitable, ever. Homeowners are still unsure whether the damage to their homes has been evaluated and if they will ever be able to move back in, or even begin the process of restoration.

Raw sewage that is flushed into the ocean will eventually break down, although the shorelines where the sewage was flooded will remain unsafe for recreation or fishing for quite a while. However, sewage that leaks into the sediment will linger for a much longer time.

Hurricane Sandy: Hypothermia and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

300% Increase in Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Hypothermia

Even though power and heat have largely been restored to residents of New York City after Hurricane Sandy, the numbers of people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and hypothermia is 300% higher than it has been in the past at this time of year.

12,000 Unheated Apartments post Hurricane Sandy

It is estimated that there are approximately 12,000 people living in unheated apartments. Cold weather can lead to aggravation of lung and heart diseases as well as triggering depression and anxiety. Poison control centers and emergency rooms are reporting far higher incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning than anticipated, as indicated by visits to the emergency room. Aged and disabled residents in unheated homes that were unable to leave due to nonfunctioning phones or elevators had to wait until emergency responders were able to rescue them.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is colorless, odorless and is highly toxic and even fatal. Because red blood cells absorb CO more quickly than oxygen, if there is a high quantity of CO in the air, oxygen can be completely displaced in the bloodstream by CO, causing damage to the tissues. People with compromised respiratory systems, infants, the elderly or heart conditions are especially vulnerable to CO poisoning. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are dizziness, nausea, headache and loss of consciousness. Unless CO poisoning is suspected, it is difficult condition to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to numerous other illnesses. Many die from CO poisoning in their sleep without experiencing any symptoms.


Hypothermia is caused by persistent exposure to cold temperatures in air or water. Preliminary hypothermia symptoms include blue grey skin color, particularly in lips and fingernails, lack of balance, slurred speech, confusion, persistent shivering and numb hands and feet. Late stage hypothermia symptoms are loss of consciousness, stiff muscles and the body becoming cold to the touch. If the body temperature drops below 90 degrees, shivering may stop. Untreated hypothermia can be fatal, but healthy adults and children can make a complete recovery in a relatively short period of time. Infants, the elderly and the infirm generally take longer to recover. The highest number of hypothermia cases was the result of people submerged in freezing water waiting for rescue.

Preparing for the Winter

As the winter season progresses, older adults, the mentally ill, people with a history of substance abuse and residents that have chronic illnesses are most susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning and hypothermia, as well as stroke, heart attacks and asthma.

CO poisoning was triggered by gas leaks in the aftermath of the hurricane, but also by unsafe efforts to keep warm using stoves, generators and even barbeques.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Accelerates Temporary Housing Plans

Federal Officials Accelerate Plan to Create Disaster Housing Structures

Because the Hurricane Sandy disaster highlighted the nation’s lack of a contingency plan in the wake of a natural disaster, both federal and local east coast officials accelerated a plan to create disaster housing structures, which are to be temporary units that can be stacked and stored in warehouse spaces and then assembled quickly when needed. These units will be fabricated from shipping and storage containers. Instead of disbursing people whose homes were destroyed into temporary shelters or hotel rooms, the city would quickly assemble temporary neighborhoods.

While the temporary housing units will not be available for use by the victims of Hurricane Sandy, it is anticipated that a prototype will be ready for construction sometime next year. The shipping containers are approximately 40 x 12 x 9 feet, and can accommodate one bedroom and bath, a kitchen and living room. These units can be combined for large families, and even stacked in order to create entire apartment blocks, as well as arranged in such a way as to suggest a proper neighborhood.

Emergency Shelters

New York’s current Hurricane Sandy relief efforts involved distributing newly homeless residents to emergency shelters in high schools and colleges, moving them to dormitory style armory shelters when the schools reopened, and then finally installing them in hotel rooms around the city. Shelters that were originally imagined for victims of substance abuse were also used, but these were not equipped for families with infants. The new plan will prevent the current permanent homeless shelters, already stretched beyond capacity, to continue to function without added strain, and to keep unoccupied apartments set aside for those who need permanent housing.
The Commissioner for New York’s Department of Design and Construction says that these storage units are strong, weather resistant and fairly cheap. The structures will be distributed to the hardest hit areas of a natural disaster, remain while the homes are being rebuilt and then dismantled and stored again after the residents have been reestablished in permanent residencies. Each unit is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $80,000, and will be paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and New York City. The original idea for these homes came from a New York-sponsored design contest, and the temporary modular housing concept has been in development for five years.

Unlike the old FEMA trailers which had a very limited lifespan, the shipping container housing units are thought to be durable enough to be reused again and again; the shipping containers themselves can be reused up to 20 times and will last as long as 30 years.

Undetected Damage: Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Superstorm Sandy Could Have Caused Undetected Damage to Your Home

Residents whose own properties might not have been severely affected by Hurricane Sandy would do well to inspect their homes or businesses thoroughly, nonetheless; there might be signs of damage that could lead to problems later on.

Check Roof Shingles

Even if there appears to be no severe damage to your roof, shingles could have been damaged or blown away, which will lead to leaks later on. Look at your top floor ceilings as well as your attic ceilings for signs of spotting and water damage that could indicate a leak in your roof. Climb up to the top of your roof and check if any of your shingles are cracked, broken or missing. If you have a two-story home and do not feel comfortable climbing a ladder that high, ask a neighbor if you can look at your roof from their second-story window. Avoid walking on your own roof under any circumstances; you risk not only injuring yourself, but cracking delicate tiles. Even some professional inspectors refuse to walk on roof surfaces. It is also a good idea, while you are checking your roof, to also check that the gutter system around your home is sound and that the gutters haven’t detached or bent.
It is also a good idea, while you are checking your roof, to also check that the gutter system around your home is sound and that the gutters haven’t detached or bent.

Check Trees for Signs of Uprooting

Make sure all of the trees near your home are standing as straight as they were before the storm. If you notice a tree leaning slightly, have a certified arborist inspect it to assess its stability. Many types of trees will grow towards light, but all pine trees grow straight; if you see a conifer leaning, it might have to be uprooted.

Visually Inspect Your Meter Box

Make sure that your meter box hasn’t been damaged, or that neither the weatherhead (the pipe that extends from the top of the meter box), nor the riser (the pipe that connects to the meter from below) have been bent or compromised in any way. If you do notice damage, have an electrician come out and inspect it further.

Inspect Your Basement for Signs of Mildew

Even if your basement didn’t flood outright, the appearance of mildew several days later might indicate that there was a leak that was undetected. You can tell that mildew has accumulated by the smell. If you detect signs of mildewing in your basement or anywhere in your home, have an emergency fire and flood cleanup service come out to inspect for leaks, perform a structure drying procedure, clean your home of mold and mildew and, if necessary, waterproof your basement and crawlspaces.

Should your home or business need any repairs, make sure to check that any repair service you hire is licensed by the state, as well as bonded and insured. You can check your state licensing board’s online directory of service providers for a properly certified repair service.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Superstorm Sandy Leaves NY Homeless Devastated

Superstorm Sandy Devastates NY City's Homeless Population

The homeless population of New York City was more than what the public facilities could handle before Hurricane Sandy; today the resources have been stretched farther than anyone could have imagined.

Before the storm, New York had more than 47,000 chronic homeless being - sheltered—more than any other US city. Advocates for the homeless have waged battles with the city to open up affordable housing opportunities in the thousands of “warehoused” properties in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “Warehousing” is a legal practice wherein property owners allow their residential buildings to sit, unoccupied, until property values rise and the rents go up. It is estimated that the more than 3500 vacant buildings in New York could house upwards of 70,000 people, while the nearly 2500 vacant lots could be developed into housing for more than 100,000.

Temporary Resident Struggle to Find Shelter

The rise of newly homeless after Hurricane Sandy caused a frenzy of activity in order to create enough shelter space for everyone whose homes were no longer habitable. Schools and college campuses were turned into hastily constructed evacuation centers in order to provide safe havens, but had to be dismantled in order to resume classes, so many of the evacuees were distributed to armories, where dormitories had been temporarily installed. Others were shuttled to Samaritan Village shelters, which were designed to house substance abusers. Many facilities had no provisions for children and babies. Others had to sequester the mentally unstable chronically homeless from the rest of the population. Now, most of the residents of these temporary shelters have been relocated to local hotels, but because many no longer have jobs or sources of income, it is unclear where the temporary residents will go after the hotel rooms are no longer being paid for.

Distinction between homeless population and terminal homeless

The Commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services declared that there is a distinction made between the homeless population that resulted from Hurricane Sandy and the terminal homeless. The shelter standards that were in place to address the homeless population before Hurricane Sandy do not apply to centers for the “temporarily” homeless. However, now that the hurricane victims have been moved and the scope of the problem has been assessed, it is not clear how the city plans to proceed. The hotel accommodations were handled under the provisions of a city contract with the American Red Cross, but food vouchers were not a part of those provisions. Many people who are being housed in hotel rooms that would cost $300 per night do not have the money for food.

As city officials continue to evaluate the plight of the city’s displaced, solutions will hopefully begin to slowly emerge. It was already announced by the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner that food vouchers will soon be added to the Red Cross shelter contract, which will helpfully assist the many people who still have nowhere to go.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Health Concerns: Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Cleanup crews that have spent the past three weeks trying to remove the debris and clean the damage sustained during the storm are beginning to succumb to a variety of illnesses and injuries.

Throughout New York and New Jersey, impromptu emergency medical centers have reported seeing people coming in complaining of shortness of breath, coughing, rashes and injuries sustained while hauling refuse. More than 500 patients have been to the Federal Disaster Medical Assistance facilities set up near the Long Beach Medical Center, which had to close after the storm. Approximately 75 patients visit the temporary medical facilities every day, which is twice the number that typically visits the medical center. Workers pulling out carpeting and floorboards are being jabbed by rusty nails and in need of tetanus shots. Members of cleanup crews are experiencing muscle spasms and back strains from the weight of the loads they carry and the continuous bending and stretching. The Hurricane left not only destruction in its wake, but also a breeding ground for mold, mildew and bacteria. Raw sewage, oil spills, dust and rusty nails have caused numerous infections, and carbon monoxide poisoning has been the culprit in several deaths in New Jersey. Severe burn cases are appearing due to the candles, gasoline and lighter fluid used for light and warmth in the many regions left without power.

Norovirus Outbreak in High School

There was an outbreak of norovirus, a gastrointestinal infection that is highly contagious, in a high school that was used as a shelter. City officials had the premises thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before the school was set to reopen.

Toxic Asbestos Spills into Streets

Many homes that were destroyed in the storm were built while asbestos was used as insulation, and the wreckage has spilled the toxic asbestos on the streets. It is expected that the soil might be saturated by lead from the lead-based paint in the wreckage and the gasoline runoff, as was seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Health Officials Believe Illnesses Only Temporary

Health officials believe that the illnesses from toxins released by the wreckage will only be temporary; mold exposure only effects the health after continuous contact, and the dust cough from the airborne particles in regions like Rockaway most likely won’t last (residents of New Orleans who experienced persistent coughing after Hurricane Katrina found that the symptoms eventually went away).

While coming in contact with potentially hazardous materials during the massive cleanup is unavoidable, the health concerns are mitigated by taking basic precautions, according to health officials. Gloves, masks and boots should always be worn when removing moldy drywall or carpeting, or when wading in standing water.

Hurricane Sandy: Circular Letter No. 8 (2012)

The New York Governor’s Office has set forth a series of measures for insurers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. These directives have been initiated with the hope that the revision of insurers’ policies will allow faster rebuilding, and also relieve some of the hardship experienced by property owners whose homes and/or businesses were damaged due to the storm. The suspension, titled Circular Letter No. 8 (2012), took effect retroactively on October 26, 2012, and states:

“A thirty (30)-day moratorium in the counties of New York, Bronx, Kings, Richmond, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Orange (Designated Counties) prohibiting the termination, cancellation or nonrenewal of automobile, homeowners and, subject to certain exceptions, commercial risk insurance Suspension of the automatic policy renewal provisions contained in these policies.”

This suspension, in effect, prohibited insurers’ cancellation or termination of insurance coverage—regardless of whether the policyholders had paid their premiums or not.

Additionally, insurers have been ordered to accept property owners’ submitted documentation of damage caused by the storm, rather than dispatch inspectors to the site. This provision allows home and business owners whose structures were severely damaged by the storm to begin the clean up process immediately without waiting for an inspector to evaluate the damage. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, “We are acting to preserve homeowners' insurance rights when much is beyond their control. They have suffered enough and should not be hurt further by red tape or technicalities.” Documentation can include photographic or video evidence of property damage.

The provision also waives large hurricane deductibles, since hurricane-force winds were not maintained when the storm reached New York.

Those who seek medical attention as a result of Hurricane Sandy are able to receive medical treatment and prescriptions from both participating and non-participating providers, and prior authorization for treatment has been suspended.

The series of new provisions has been extended to financial institutions. State-chartered banks have been ordered to temporarily waive their ATM fees, overdraft fees, penalties for returned checks, late payment fees and penalties for early withdrawal from savings accounts when account holders demonstrate a need for funds due to the storm. The banks that will waive the fees and penalties are New York Community Bank, Apple Savings, Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburg, M&T Bank and Emigrant Savings Bank.

Because those affected by the disaster have been encouraged to file claims quickly, a 24-hour hotline has been created to help customers with the filing process and also answer any questions. Multiple insurance command centers have been established in areas where the storm damage was the most severe.

NY City and New Jersey Gas Availability

New York and New Jersey Gasoline Rationing Coming to an End

Among the many problems east coast residents must suffer in the wake of Hurricane Sandy—homelessness and loss of power, to name only two—there is now also the lack of gasoline availability in New York and New Jersey. Although the mandatory rationing that has been enforced throughout different counties is now coming to an end (New York city announced that rationing will continue until the end of the week of November 18th, even though the long lines that initiated the regulation have, for the most part, disappeared), many residents are accusing gas stations throughout the region of price gouging, with many gas stations charging as much as $9 per gallon of gas. Thirteen gas stations in New York are being charged with civil price gouging.

At the time of the storm, average gas prices were about $4, and no gas station in New York City charged more than $4.22. However, shortly thereafter, many gas stations began charging nearly $5 per gallon. The state attorney general’s office has received more than 600 complaints of exorbitantly high gas prices, and of gas stations advertising a certain price on roadside signs but charging higher prices at the pump.

Halted Distribution Causes Gas Panic

Supply of gasoline in the east coast was compromised due to the fact that distribution was halted and the power outage prevented gas stations from being able to pump the gas. The panic resulted in a flood of customers, afraid that the supply would completely run out, to the remaining gas stations. Gas lines in some neighborhoods stretched to nearly a mile long, and fights repeatedly broke out amongst customers accusing each other of cutting in front. The rationing process, which only permitted the sale of gas to customers with even or odd-numbered license plates on certain days, or limited the amount of gasoline to ten gallons per person, seemed to have largely eliminated the lines.

The gas stations that have been cited for price gouging have been notified by the state attorney general’s office that they have the opportunity to explain and attempt to justify the higher prices while the proceeding is underway. After Hurricane Irene, two gas stations were found to have raised prices, and were subsequently fined substantial penalties. With one quarter of the New Jersey power stations being restored to functionality, the power outages that have caused much of the gas anxiety will, hopefully, slowly come to an end.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Financial Impact of Hurricane Sandy

The sum total of the devastation Hurricane Sandy brought to the east coast has not even begun to be revealed. Lives have been lost, thousands of homes destroyed, billions of dollars worth of property has been irreparably damaged and power hasn’t even been fully restored. The economic deprivation from the newly homeless and jobless residents may cause economic recovery—not only in the east coast, but nationally—to be farther ahead than we anticipated.

Hurricane Sandy Threatens Economic Recovery

The economic downturn of the past decade has caused the standard of living for many Americans to diminish significantly. Now that small businesses throughout the east coast have been destroyed, it seems as though the small foothold many people were just beginning to have in terms of economic stability has been lost. Not only are many residents out of a job, their possessions are ruined and their homes are uninhabitable. A resident of New Jersey told a reporter with The Huffington Post that not only was her job lost and all her clothes destroyed, but also her identification papers and birth certificate, making it almost impossible to get a new job—should she find one.

Sandy adds to an already high unemployment rate

It is estimated by the Labor Department that the startling rise in unemployment claims came primarily from Mid-Atlantic states, where businesses and homes were flooded by the thousands. People who were managing to eke out a living before the super storm hit are now thrust into total poverty.

For many of these residents, the only glimmer of hope is the possibility that federal clean-up jobs might be available to help stave off some of the hardship. New York received a $27 million grant for storm clean up jobs; New Jersey received $15 million. Unfortunately, these clean up jobs haven’t been well promoted, according to some job-seekers, and the scope of available positions isn’t clear. Some applicants feel that the majority of the clean-up jobs are geared towards male workers.

US factory production in the northeast has been hurt by the storm, too. The downturn in apparel, food and industrial manufacturing comes hand-in-hand with the decline in retail sales. The Federal Reserve also estimated that the hurricane resulted in a drop of production by a full percentage point. While there may be a production spike after companies begin to rebuild, it is generally believed by economists that the disruption in production will likely last throughout the month of November, since the power outages still linger, even into the second half of the month.

Homes Damaged by Hurricane Sandy Not Set to Be Demolished in New York

Hundreds of homes in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens that were deemed to be damaged beyond repair are set to be demolished by the city of New York. However, it is not yet entirely clear if the homeowners are required to pay the cost of demolition; a notice sent by the New York Department of Buildings stated that the city would withhold the charges incurred by the city for demolition services, but the notice didn’t specify whether or not it would be temporary or permanent. However, many homeowners whose homes were destroyed in Breezy Point, Queens were alarmed to receive a notice stating that they were to be held liable for failure to maintain their buildings properly, and might be prosecuted as a result.

According to the New York Department of Buildings, these notices were a formality, and property owners shouldn’t fear any legal action or fines. But homeowners do not necessarily feel comforted by this news, since the messages sent out by the department and different council members have been so oblique that it is impossible to know for certain what course of action will be taken. One thing is clear, however, 200 homes will be demolished by the city, and several hundred more will be evaluated to determine structural integrity.

80,000 Buildings Have Been Evaluated from Damage Caused by Sandy

The damage from Hurricane Sandy is still being assessed; roughly 80,000 buildings have been evaluated for structural integrity, and the soundness of the structures is disclosed using different colored tags: green for stable, yellow for restricted and red for unsound. As one might imagine, red signs are indicators that the home or building might need to be demolished, although a red notice isn’t necessarily a guarantee that either the city or the owner must raze the building.

Unsound structures are sometimes so fragile that they are a danger to surrounding properties. These have been pulled away from their foundations; sometimes having been lifted clean off of the ground and dropped several yards away. They list to one side and threaten to topple over at any time. Desperate homeowners are faced with the choice of demolishing the house outright, or hiring an engineer to design plans that might save them; pending approval from the city.

Many blocks of homes in neighborhoods in Queens, NY were thoroughly destroyed, not only by the force of the hurricane, but by the electrical fires that raged on the night of the storm. Many homes were reduced to piles of rubble that couldn’t even support the inspector’s signs, and it is difficult to determine what the home addresses even are amidst all of the rubble.

Julian Omidi is cofounder of the charitable organizations No More Poverty and Animal Support with his brother, Dr. Julian Omidi. In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, and the city of New York’s efforts to evaluate the individual structures.

Hurricane Sandy Insurance Claims in Billions

Hurricane Sandy Property Damage in the Billions

The devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy are only just beginning to be felt. As with Hurricane Katrina, the dollar amount for all of the property damage is in the billions, and even though a home or property owner might have flood damage insurance through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), there simply isn’t enough money to reimburse all of the claims. And what about all of the home and property owners who didn’t have flood insurance?

FEMA May Have to Increase Federal Deficit in Order to Pay All Claims

In 2005, the Gulf Coast was ravaged, leaving thousands of homes leveled and tens of thousands of people homeless. The FEMA National Flood Insurance Program that insured a vast number of property owners takes in approximately $3.5 billion in premiums yearly, and when hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma struck, more than $17 billion in damages were filed. In fact, flood insurance claims have surpassed insurance premiums for four out of the last five years, leaving the federal organization without the money for adequate payout. Hurricane Sandy is believed to have flooded or destroyed more than 100,000 homes. FEMA will very likely have to increase the federal deficit in order to pay out all of the claims and provide sufficient assistance. The vast majority of the properties with flood insurance coverage are covered by the federal-backed National Flood Insurance Program because private insurers either do not offer flood insurance or the premiums are prohibitively expensive in regions even marginally susceptible to flooding.

Flood Insurance Policies

How does the homeowner know if the damage is covered? There are numerous provisions in homeowner insurance policies, and determining whether or not a particular policy applies to a specific sort of damage can be quite confusing. The category of “flooding” might not even apply to many of the claimants. Properties that were damaged by winds or rain are not covered by flood insurance, nor are properties damaged by fallen trees due to ground oversaturation. However, most homeowners’ insurance will cover the damage done to a home from a fallen tree, unless it can be proven that the tree fell due to homeowner neglect; even if the tree was owned by someone other than the property owner who makes the claim. “Flooding” is defined as being an overflow from either tidal or inland waters, which then seep into the property from below, as opposed to leaking in from above. Standard-issue flood insurance policies cover the structure, electrical systems, plumbing systems, large appliances (refrigerators, ovens and water heaters) and carpeting. Supplementary insurance can be purchased for furnishings, clothing and electronics. Try not to keep items of value in basements; many flood insurance policies do not cover (or have limited coverage) items stored below ground.

Unfortunately, not every homeowner had flood insurance, since it isn’t required unless the homeowner has a federally-backed mortgage. Those without flood insurance can contact FEMA and apply for aid. However, assistance, if granted, is only a fraction of what an insurance policy would pay out.

Philanthropist Julian Omidi is cofounder of the charities No More Poverty and Animal Support with his brother Dr. Michael Omidi. In this article, Julian Omidi discusses insurance claims after Hurricane Sandy.