Sandy-hit areas grade federal government's response to superstorm

A pile of debris from Superstorm Sandy sits in a parking lot Nov. 5, 2012, in Long Beach Township, N.J., on Long Beach Island. Getty Images

Updated at 2:02 p.m. ET

More than a week after Superstorm Sandy devastated areas of the East Coast, local officials in areas of New Jersey and New York particularly hit hard by the storm gave mixed reviews of the federal government's response to the disaster.

On New Jersey's Long Beach Island, Surf City Councilman Peter Harney gave different grades to the federal government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the government's primary tool for responding to disasters.

"I would give a B, maybe a B-plus, because of the response of the Army Corps of Engineers," Harney said.

"FEMA, we'd make it a C-plus."

Harney made the distinction because of the corps' assistance with bringing in 10,000 tons of sand to replenish the borough's dunes that normally provide protection for the beachfront community but were swept away by Sandy.

"The work usually takes months and years to get accomplished, and it's virtually been done overnight, which for the federal government is overnight," Harney said.

As for FEMA, the agency left more to be desired.

"When we really needed it, it was stuck in the paperwork, but we're moving ahead on our own," Harney said.

He pointed to a generator the borough needed when the city couldn't power the pumps for its water tower, among other things.

"We put in a request for cots maybe five days ago, and it took five days to get it," Harney said Tuesday.

Still, the city plans to apply to be reimbursed for its storm-related damages. Harney said a preliminary damage assessment put the city's cost at "probably an easy 5 million."

"We're a real small town, and everybody's pitching in to make it happen," Harney said.

To help victims of Sandy, donations to the American Red Cross can be made by visiting Red Cross disaster relief, or you can text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Harney's assessment contrasted with the largely positive comments coming from such officials as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the storm's aftermath.

"You know, there was a lot of criticism with (FEMA) back in the (Hurricane) Katrina days, and today, you hear nothing but good things about FEMA, and they certainly have been very helpful to us," Bloomberg said Oct. 30, the day after the storm made landfall.

On Wednesday, FEMA increased by 25 percent how much money Sandy victims can receive to pay for temporary housing. The agency expected the increase to open up 1,800 more places for New Yorkers to stay and 1,200 more places for New Jersey victims.

Further up the coast from Surf City, John Camera, borough administrator for Seaside Heights, N.J., praised the agency.

"The federal government response, I think, has been an A in accessibility to us," said Camera. "They've been here in FEMA representatives to us. I'm hopeful the follow-up will actually be good."

Camera said he had never dealt with anything like the kind of damage Sandy brought upon his city and didn't want to be critical of the agency while relying on it to walk him through the process of getting funds that will finance rebuilding projects.

"That all, obviously, hasn't happened yet, and we don't expect it to," Camera said.

Camera wouldn't make an estimate on the amount of damage Seaside Heights sustained in the storm.

"The amount we've spent all week in just putting the utility systems back together is probably more than we've spent on the entire utility altogether," said Camera. "It's just astronomical."

In New York City, the government also received praise from the leader of the hard-hit borough of Queens, where Sandy flooded the Rockaway Peninsula and caused a fire that burned down more than 100 homes in the Breezy Point neighborhood.

Dan Andrews, spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, said Marshall was "very grateful" for federal aid and thanked President Obama on a recent conference call with local and regional officials in the area.

The U.S. Marine Corps dispatched two amphibious vehicles to the peninsula to pump water from basements of flooded public housing complexes. However, tens of thousands remain without electricity, an issue Andrews said Marshall raised Monday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department oversees FEMA.

"An army has moved onto the Rockaway Peninsula, but it's still not enough," Andrews said.

Marshall also issued an appeal for gas for one hospital's home care workers so they can make visits to sick homebound children in the neighborhood of Far Rockaway.

Marshall's praise contrasted with the lashing the president of the harder-hit borough of Staten Island gave the American Red Cross last week.

"Do not donate to the Red Cross," Borough President James Molinaro said Thursday, characterizing the organization's efforts as "an absolute disgrace."

The next day cooler heads prevailed, and Molinaro walked back his comments.

"For four days, this borough was cut off," Molinaro said, according to The Associated Press. "No bridges, no way of getting off or on. Sometimes you get frustrated, you get angry. So I got angry, I was frustrated. I think they're doing a good job."

Molinaro's office didn't respond to a request for his evaluation of FEMA's response.

But Rosalina Palermo, who lives in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island, told CBS New York station WCBS-TV that she registered with FEMA for assistance last Wednesday and its responders didn't get to her until Monday.

"I think it could have been a little bit quicker," Palermo said.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was more critical, calling the agency's response "unacceptable."

"FEMA's got to own up to that and say, 'Hey, we really blew it. We should have pre-positioned the water. We should have anticipated the need for generators,'" Giuliani told WCBS-TV.

FEMA spokesman Ken Higginbotham stood up for the agency's response.

"You know, something of this magnitude is a challenge, but we're up to the challenge," he told WCBS-TV. "This is what we do."

Charles Stuyvesant, a Midland Beach resident who's lived along the water for 25 years, praised the agency.

"Right on the ball, no better," Stuyvesant told WCBS-TV. "They're unbelievably great, these people."

  • Alex Sundby

    Alex Sundby is an associate news editor for CBSNews.com

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