Bloomberg on power in public housing, homes by the beach

Bloomberg. (Spencer T. Tucker via flickr)
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Nearly half of all New York City residents who had lost their heat and power are in public housing, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his latest update about Hurricane Sandy's aftermath.

"Half the people who didn't have heat and electricity are in public housing and we think by tonight or tomorrow every one of them, their buildings, will have electricity and by early next week they'll all have heat," Bloomberg said. "So that's a group that we did have to worry about but now do not have to worry about."

(That's probably not how the affected residents would see it.)

In a brief appearance on his weekly radio program, Bloomberg said 70,000 to 80,000 single- and two-family homes mostly along the waterfront "had some kind of water damage" which may complicate efforts to return heat and electricity to them.

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The mayor said "under 1,000" homes were totally destroyed by the storm.

When asked if the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will help these homeowners, the mayor said the agency will "pay money to help" but was uncertain about the specifics. "I've asked ten times and it's very complicated."

Today's radio appearance also coincided with the start of the city's first gas-rationing program, which the mayor announced yesterday afternoon.

When asked why it was only now that the city sought to address the gas shortage by rationing, Bloomberg said, "The theory was in fact there would be a lot of gas coming in" to the city.

He then said, referring to the alternate-day rationing system using license-plate numbers, "There's no need to worry about odd-even if there's no gas at all coming into the system."

Once officials were able to see customers gas-purchasing habits after the storm, they decided to ration it out. But, Bloomberg cautioned, "There's no guarantee that odd-even is going to make a big difference. It's certainly not going to make for more gas."

Before ending the interview, Bloomberg, like Governor Andrew Cuomo, said storms and floods will inevitably be part of New York's future.

"What we got to understand is we live on an island," said Bloomberg, a Manhattan resident. "And, you know, islands are surrounded by water, surprise surprise."

The two executives have appeared to differ on how to address this problem, like whether to ban housing along certain areas more vulnerable to storm damage, and whether to undertake the construction of sea barriers in strategic areas.

Yesterday, Cuomo said, "Where we rebuild and where we don't rebuild is going to be something we look at."

"You can't build a wall to the sky," Bloomberg said this morning. "When you live near the water, unfortunately this is going to happen. People say, 'Well, you shouldn't build your house close to the beach.' You certainly incur greater risks if you build a house closer to the beach. That's why insurance costs more for your house if it is close to the beach or you can't get insurance. But people want to do this and people wanted to do this for as long as people have lived."

He said, "From Florida to Maine we build houses close to the beach. Storms come along and do terrible damage.

"The first responsibility" of government, he said, is to "make sure people don't get killed or hurt. And after that, it's a decision people make. You have to believe where these houses are along the south beach of Staten Island and along the Rockaways and places like that ... people will rebuild their houses, or other people will buy their property and rebuild it."