New York faces 'massive housing problem' after Sandy, governor says

New York faces 'massive housing problem' after Sandy, governor says
Logan Burruss/CNN
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Sunday, November 4, 2012 - 7:55pm

Kevin Cordova's family tried cooking hot food to stay warm. They wore their winter coats inside and buried themselves under blankets.

But on Sunday, six days after powerful winds from Superstorm Sandy knocked out their power, temperatures dipped so low they couldn't spend another night in their home in Floral Park, New York.

"There's really no amount of blankets that can stop you from being cold in 30-degree weather," said Cordova, 28. "We feel a little homeless right now. We have our house, but we can't really use it."

Officials say thousands of New Yorkers left without heat after Superstorm Sandy hit may need to leave their homes as temperatures plummet, but it's not clear where they'll go.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people could need housing in New York City alone, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday. Officials are working on coming up with a solution, he said, but they haven't yet.

"I don't know that anyone has ever taken this many people and found housing for them overnight," he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described it as a "massive housing problem."

"People are in homes that are uninhabitable," Cuomo told reporters. "It's going to become increasingly clear that they're uninhabitable when the temperature drops and the heat doesn't come on."

In Long Island's Nassau County, where 266,000 customers were still without power Sunday, some people have died while trying to heat their homes with propane grills and other improvised methods, County Administrator Edward Mangano said Sunday.

"We've very concerned about people sheltering in place without proper heat," he said.

Utility officials warned some residents that it could take until Wednesday for power to be restored, Cordova said. The freelance editor said his family was grateful their house survived the storm, but unsure of what to do if their power stays out much longer. On Sunday night, his family planned to stay with friends.

"We're all staying in different houses," he said, "but I don't know how long we can keep that up."

In her apartment in Yonkers, New York, Julie Munn huddled under the covers, watching her breath in the air before she went to sleep. Her 6-month-old cat, Sheldon, got skittish, trying to crawl under things to keep warm.

"It got so cold that I left Saturday morning," she said. "It was the same temperature inside the apartment as it was outside."

Munn, 25, who stayed at her parents' house, got word that her power came back Sunday.

But many others were still in limbo.

"People aren't leaving their homes," said Staten Island resident Tara Saylor, 25. "They have no place to go."

More than 10,000 people across nine states spent Saturday night in shelters, American Red Cross spokeswoman Attie Poirier said. The Red Cross is sending 80,000 blankets to the region ahead of colder weather predicted this week, she said.

For many, keeping warm isn't simply a matter of turning on the heat, after Superstorm Sandy knocked out gas lines and electricity. Statewide in New York, 730,000 people were without power Sunday, Cuomo said. More than 2.2 million customers were without power across 15 states.

Some people's patience was running low, along with the temperatures.

Residents in the Rockaways, in Queens, vented their frustrations at Bloomberg as he toured the area Saturday. One woman yelled, "When are we going to get some help!" while a man talked about "old ladies in my building who have got nothing."

Supplementing and, in some cases, dissatisfied with the government response, neighbors and volunteers from afar to hard-hit areas over the weekend to offer food, clothing and whatever else to those who are still cold and hungry.

"We covered two children with a blanket freezing and shivering here trying to get food last night," Rockaway resident Lauren O'Connor told CNN affiliate NY1. "We said we had to do something."

Dropping temperatures are only one concern the region faces, with the presidential election only days away.

Election officials in New York City will temporarily relocate or combine some poll sites due to damage from Sandy, the Board of Elections said in a statement Sunday.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has ordered early voting sites to offer extended hours through the weekend to encourage voters to make it to the polls.

For those who can't make it to their voting precincts, Christie ordered election officials to allow displaced New Jersey voters to cast their ballots electronically by submitting a mail-in ballot application via e-mail or fax. Once approved, the voter will be sent an electronic ballot that can, in turn, be e-mailed or faxed back to the county clerk.

The 900-mile-wide superstorm left a huge swath of damage when it hit the Northeast this week, claiming at least 111 lives in the United States and two in Canada after earlier killing 67 around the Caribbean.

Worst-hit New York state suffered 48 deaths, including 41 in New York City, authorities said. Twenty of those were in Staten Island.

As communities grapple with the human toll, the price of the damage is stunning: between $30 billion and $50 billion, according to disaster modeling firm Eqecat. That far exceeds the firm's pre-storm estimate of $20 billion.

Officials said Sunday that relief was in sight for residents facing fuel shortages, with Defense Department plans to deliver generators and fuel to stations that need electricity and gasoline.

"We think things will be getting better. We know what a disaster this is," New York Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday. "My wife waited two and half hours for gas yesterday and called me every half hour to see what I was doing about it, so this is an answer to her as well as to every New Yorker."

Meanwhile, Bloomberg said he plans to take the subway on Monday, a sign that transit is coming back.

New York City students will also go back to school Monday, Bloomberg said. Some students will be bused to other locations if their schools have been damaged and cannot reopen, he said.

The region may be in for more bad weather, with a weaker storm predicted for next week.

"As we have this nor'easter coming next week, we have to remain extremely vigilant about our neighbors," New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Sunday.

While many residents are seeking disaster relief help from federal and state officials, she said, some of the state's seniors may be afraid to leave their homes, even if they don't have heat. And they may not know what resources are available.

"What I'm most concerned about right now are the people we haven't met and we haven't seen," she said.

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CNN's Devon Sayers, Sarah Hoye, Josh Levs, Mariano Castillo, Greg Botelho, Faith Karimi, David Ariosto, Erinn Cawthon, Henry Hanks and Maria White contributed to this report

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