Clergy puts faith in mayor to quicken cleanup

Far Rockaway residents call for accelerated storm cleanup at an interfaith gathering. AP Photo/HO/David Karp
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Religious background did not figure in to Superstorm Sandy’s trail of destruction and now victims of all creeds are pushing to accelerate the cleanup.

An interfaith network of more than 50 houses of worship across Queens brought together by Queens Congregations United for Action are calling on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to improve efforts to pick up the pieces.

“Six weeks after Sandy we have an assessment of the system that says it isn’t working, and hundreds of people from 50 congregations are saying unanimously that the city has failed in the Rockaways,” said Joseph McKellar, the QCUA executive director. “Faith leaders are calling on Mayor Bloomberg to commit to a series of action steps to make his Rapid Response program live up to its name. It’s shocking that a full six weeks after Sandy so little progress has been made.”

The organization released a study and action plan outlining 10 urgent reforms to improve recovery efforts, as well as an assessment of recovery efforts, surveys of residents and previously untold stories of people still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy.

In its action plan, the group urges the city Rapid Repairs program to get the electricity and heat back on, create a city fund to help immigrants who cannot qualify for relief programs and create a community-driven process to shape priorities and plans for the city’s $42 billion request for relief from Congress so that areas like the Rockaways are not left behind.

At a community meeting Dec. 10 at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Far Rockaway, rabbis, pastors, priests and bishops shared stories of congregation members who are still suffering in the cold and dark weeks after the storm passed through.

Among the stories shared were that of Valerie Close, a resident of Rockaway Beach who lost her basement, two vehicles and her daycare business and still has no electricity or heat in her home, and Roha Singh, a homeowner who currently has water coming in through his roof due to damaged and missing shingles, who has been denied insurance coverage but has not received the denial letter yet, making him ineligible to receive FEMA money. He already repaired the heat, hot water and electricity with his own money, which cost about $3,000.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s federal coordinating officer, Michael Byrne, said areas that suffered the worst storm assault would take far longer than weeks to make a full recovery.

“Individuals, groups and government agencies all came together to respond and begin recovery,” said Byrne. “This disaster was so immense that it required a massive effort by thousands of people. Those people are still at work, and will be for a long time.”

But state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) said the city must act fast to make necessary repairs and prevent a health crisis in the Rockaways.

“We know there is a growing mold epidemic in the Rockaway Peninsula,” said Smith. “I am carrying your message and getting on the phone with Mayor Bloomberg’s office to demand that he move quickly to reform Rapid Repair because lives and health are at stake.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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