Rabbi Shay Schachter, assistant rabbi at the Rockaways’ “White Shul” told me about the dire straits his community was in in the first nine days after the storm struck. FEMA only arrived the following Tuesday after the storm and initially had to rely on local relief groups like the Long Island JCC for information. Rabbi Schachter had been running groups of local students and volunteers into three 17-story buildings in his community, filled largely with poor and elderly residents. He told me that when they first arrived five days after the storm bringing food and water to residents “[they] looked at us like they haven’t seen food in five years.” Schachter was asked by many residents about how they could receive medical attention, medication and access to dialysis machines while trapped in their highrise apartments without working elevators. Before FEMA took over the building’s care a full ten days after the storm hit, one FEMA official told Schachter that he was certain they would find dead bodies inside, as elderly residents inside had no heat, food, or medical care.
After the storm, before the election, the only public discussion regarding FEMA centered around Mitt Romney’s statements during a GOP primary debate, which were misinterpreted and misrepresented to suggest he wanted to abolish FEMA. Romney came under fire for the remarks and unfortunately, as Jonathan pointed out the day before the election, little political attention has been paid to FEMA’s undeniably slow response to Sandy. The logic of Romney’s suggestion that FEMA cannot (and has not in the past) promptly offer relief to victims of natural and man-made disasters in the U.S. has yet to be discussed in the media or by government officials. More than two weeks after the storm, the situation is growing increasingly dire for residents of the Rockaways as temperatures plummet.