Gulf Coast Republican Rep. Steve Palazzo, who initially opposed the $51-billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill, visits wreckage sites on Staten Island and announces he will vote for bill after all

WASHINGTON — A Gulf Coast congressman flogged for opposing Hurricane Sandy aid unexpectedly popped up in Staten Island Tuesday — and then announced that he will provide a key vote supporting $51 billion in storm relief next week. Rep. Steve Palazzo, a Republican from Biloxi, Miss., inspected storm damage in the borough and along the New Jersey Shore — and then declared his “unwavering commitment” to back the additional disaster relief. “I was reminded of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Mississippians have been through much of what the Sandy victims are experiencing,” Palazzo said in a written statement Tuesday night. “Now is the time for the federal government to provide immediate relief to those affected by the storm. I am fully committed to providing the relief they so desperately need.”   Rogelio V. Solis/AP Rep. Steve Palazzo, a Republican from Biloxi, Miss initially opposed the bill to provide aid for Hurricane Sandy victims. Palazzo’s stunning about-face leaves the $51 billion aid package for New York and surrounding states needing only four more “yes” votes to assure passage in the Republican-controlled House. His reversal could influence other “no” voters to flip, too. REPUBLICANS WHO VOTED AGAINST SANDY RELIEF PACKAGE SLAMMED WITH ANGRY PHONE CALLS The congressman had sustained a Category 5 backlash for his vote Friday against letting the federal flood insurance program borrow $9.7 billion to pay the claims of Sandy victims who had purchased coverage. Sixty-six other Republicans also voted no, saying the spending would add to the deficit. More than 350 other lawmakers supported the funding, sending it to the Senate, where it was approved by a voice vote. But the number of “no” votes in the House raised a red flag that the larger $51 billion aid package could be in jeopardy. The Daily News named and Continue Reading

In push for $42 billion in federal aid, New York pols say Hurricane Sandy worse than Hurricane Katrina

Gov. Cuomo said Monday that Hurricane Sandy was in some ways even worse than Hurricane Katrina, as he announced the state would seek a whopping $42 billion in federal disaster aid. Cuomo acknowledged that far more people died as a result of Katrina’s fury, than Sandy’s. But he said last month’s superstorm caused more property damage, and affected a greater number of people. “Hurricane Katrina, in many ways, was not as impactful as Hurricane Sandy, believe it or not,” Cuomo said. “Because of the density of New York, the number of people affected, the number of properties affected was much larger in Hurricane Sandy than Hurricane Katrina. That puts the entire conversation, I believe, into focus.” The cost estimate issued by Cuomo — $41.9 billion, about $10 billion more the number he floated a few weeks ago — represents the most detailed accounting yet of Sandy’s financial toll on the city, the surrounding counties and the state. Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News Gov. Cuomo says said a total of $32.8 billion will be needed to cover “repairs and restoration” — and $9.1 billion to safeguard New York’s electrical grid, highway and subway tunnels, and cell phone networks ahead of future superstorms. Cuomo drew the comparison to Katrina in hopes of bolstering the aid request, which will land in Washington at a time when lawmakers are focused on shrinking the federal deficit. Asking New Yorkers to foot the bill alone “would incapacitate the state,” Cuomo said. Cuomo made his pitch Monday with an orchestrated show of bipartisan support after President Obama urged lawmakers to work together to help the Sandy-ravaged state get back on its feet. But Mayor Bloomberg initially was not on key. In the morning, he announced that he would head to Washington on Wednesday to lobby for the disaster funding — but did not tell Cuomo’s office Continue Reading

NY Mets prospect Gavin Cecchini donates $10,000 to Hurricane Sandy relief effort as tragedy hit home for Louisiana native

PORT ST. LUCIE - Gavin Cecchini recognized the pictures. The destroyed schools, the flooded-out cars, the ruined homes and homeless families. Cecchini has never been to the devastated neighborhoods in Staten Island, Brooklyn or Queens, but he immediately recognized the aftermath of a deadly storm. “I was just watching the news and the pictures just hit me,” Cecchini, 19, said. “I saw cars flooded and the homes. I saw a car blow up outside MCU Park (the home of the Mets’ New York-Penn League affiliate in Coney Island). “I’ve seen that before. I felt a connection. I was drafted by the Mets, this is my extended family now and I could do something to help... I knew I had been blessed with this talent and if I could use it to help my extended family, it’s what I wanted to do.” The product of Lake Charles, La., donated $10,000 to the Mayor Fund for Sandy Relief to help New York City residents rebuild after the superstorm. The shortstop said that watching the storm ravage parts of the city on the news brought back memories of his hometown being hit hard by Hurricane Rita in 2005, just months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. “We were lucky. Our house wasn’t destroyed, we lost some shingles and a tree fell on it, but the town and the houses around us were hit really hard,” Cecchini said. “I saw houses that were torn straight off the slabs. All of Lake Charles was hit hard. Our schools were destroyed.” At the time, Cecchini, then 12, evacuated to Texas with his family. Eventually they headed to California to wait for their hometown to be inhabitable again. “The damage was so severe you weren’t allowed to go out at night. There was a curfew,” Cecchini said. “You just couldn’t live there.” Cecchini hit .240 one home run and 22 RBI in 58 games between Port St. Lucie and Brooklyn in 2012. He is in his first spring training Continue Reading

Widow mother of firemen outraged at politicians who voted ‘no’ to Hurricane Sandy relief bill: ‘Absolutely disgraceful’

A widowed mother of two hero firefighters killed on 9/11 says she has been left heartbroken again — this time by politicians balking at approving Hurricane Sandy funds to rebuild her flood-damaged home. Maureen Haskell, 68, of Seaford, L.I., was thrust into the spotlight Friday when Rep. Peter King (R.-L.I.) pleaded with fellow members of Congress to approve a funding package aimed at helping storm-ravaged victims like Haskell. “It’s absolutely disgraceful. It breaks my heart,” Haskell said of the 67 Republicans who voted no Friday on a $9.7 billion first-phase funding package for Sandy victims. FORMER NY SENATOR RIPS 67 GOP CONGRESSMEN WHO VOTED 'NO' ON SANDY RELIEF Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News Seaford, NY home of Maureen Haskell, which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy owned by Maureen Haskell who said the house would be condemned. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unexpectedly tabled the funding vote earlier last week due to a dispute with other House Republicans, angering local politicians, including King. “Everybody plays by the rules . . . except for tonight, when the rug is pulled out from under us,” King said on the House floor after Boehner tabled the vote on the funding package. The measure was eventually passed by the House Friday with a vote of 354-67. CHARITY GROUPS HELP REBUILD LONG ISLAND FAMILY'S SANDY-RAVAGED HOME Boehner has promised to put a larger $60.4 billion Sandy aid package up for a vote on Jan. 15. But the political hijinks has left storm victims like Haskell bitter and worried they might get left in a lurch by Washington. “There are people living in tents on Staten Island in 25-degree weather. This is not a third-world country,” Haskell told The News. PHOTOS: SUPERSTORM SANDY'S DESTRUCTION Compounding Haskell’s anger is the fact that she has paid years of premiums on her flood insurance and has yet to be given an answer about her claim. Continue Reading

Trump asks Congress for $7.9 billion for Hurricane Harvey relief

WASHINGTON — President Trump has requested $7.9 billion in emergency spending to help Texas and Louisiana recover from Hurricane Harvey's winds and floods.The request, sent to Congress on Friday, would add $7.4 billion to Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster aid coffers and $450 million to finance disaster loans for small businesses.“We’re working on emergency funding. We’re doing everything we can. We’re working very well with the governor," Trump told reporters Friday.But that request to Congress is likely to be just the first down payment on hurricane recovery, as local, state and federal officials continue to tally up the cost of the damage. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said that cost could exceed $125 billion — more than the $100 billion-plus federal price tag for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or about $60 billion from Congress for Superstorm Sandy in 2012."There's nobody that's wrong on estimates right now," White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said Thursday. "We'll go up to Congress and give them a sound supplemental request number. We'll add to it." Bossert said the FEMA has the resources it needs for immediate relief efforts but the agency is burning through its Disaster Relief Fund at a high rate. That fund was scheduled to be replenished with the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 but will need additional funds before then, he said. Congress returns to Washington next week after its August recess, with Harvey relief now at the top of an agenda that also includes must-pass bills to set a budget for the new fiscal year and to raise the debt ceiling to allow the government to borrow more money. Read more: Harvey floods Tennessee, Kentucky, as Hurricane Irma spins up in the Atlantic Houston pivots toward cleanup, hopes for normalcy as Harvey moves on Harvey flood claims will hit insurance program as Congress struggles to fix it    Continue Reading

Louisville continues to send aid to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

Louisville-area groups are continuing to aid in emergency response efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical storm, in Texas.Fourteen Louisville firefighters trained in swift water rescues are planning to travel to Houston to assist with rescue efforts and provide some assistance to agencies who have been working to help locally."It's important that we show our surrounding communities that they have partners in the same profession ready to raise their hand and come lend a hand," Louisville Fire spokesman Sal Melendez said. "I have no doubt (that) if the roles were reversed, there would be no shortage of other agencies jumping up to lend a hand to us." More: 'Stay safe, little brother' – Hurricane Harvey traps C-J reporter's sibling More: Louisville 'ready to go' with Hurricane Harvey aid. Here's how you can help More: Tropical Storm Harvey expected to reach Louisville Thursday night Salvation Army officers from Louisville also plan to go to Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Officers will deploy Thursday morning to serve for 14 days as part of the organization's ongoing efforts. Units from Kentucky and Tennessee have been on standby since the relief efforts began and several were called into action this week, according to a Salvation Army news release."The Salvation Army has a long history of serving in disasters, from localized tornadoes or flooding to long-term responses after 9/11 and Katrina," Major Jim Arrowood, divisional commander for the Kentucky/Tennessee division, wrote in the release. "We have always been where the need is, and there is clearly a need from Harvey's devastation." More Hurricane Harvey news ► More Kentucky airmen deploy to Texas to help with Harvey rescue efforts'God bless Texas': How you can support Harvey victims by shopping locallyThere's hope for Houston in the story of Louisville's Great Flood of 1937►Family of Louisville football Continue Reading

Passey recounts own coverage of Hurricane Katrina

A massive storm was raging over the Gulf Coast and leaving devastation in its wake. Hurricane Katrina left coastal Louisiana and Mississippi tattered, bruised and broken when it made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005. It crippled a major American city. And I wanted to somehow help repair the damage.I remember expressing my helplessness to a friend who told me to get over it because there was nothing I could do. I refused to believe that.Soon I began hearing word of local efforts to deliver supplies to the victims of the storm. I had the opportunity to write about one such effort as Tanner Carnley, of Leeds, and his brother-in-law Gene Larsen, of Hurricane, gathered supplies to take to the Biloxi, Mississippi, area, where the Carnelys once lived and where many family members remained.A few days after they left I received a call from a bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in that area. He told me a trailer of supplies from St. George had arrived at his church building, which was serving as a shelter for those who had been displaced. The Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency hadn’t made it there yet, but a load of supplies from Southern Utah did.He began to cry as he thanked me for writing the story that led to such an outpouring of giving from the residents of Southern Utah. He called us all his “heroes.”That phone call remains one of the high points of my journalism career.About a week later I heard about another relief effort. St. George resident Jeff Stelter was coordinating the delivery of three truckloads of supplies from Las Vegas and one truckload from St. George through his company, Coast to Coast Real Estate.He had been to Louisiana once after the storm, driving the first semi from Las Vegas to deliver supplies immediately after the storm. What he discovered on that trip was a large amount of independent relief shelters housed in Baton Rouge area churches that were not yet receiving help from the Red Cross or Continue Reading

Mike Brown, former head of FEMA, says Bush administration downplayed severity of Hurricane Katrina

The man George W. Bush praised as doing a "heck of a job" during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, now says the administration tried to downplay the severity of the massive storm. Mike Brown, the embattled former head of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), said Friday there was a "disconnect" between what the White House said and the actual situation on the gulf coast. "There was a mentality in Washington which says you put the best face on everything," Brown said on the "Today" show. Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the deadly hurricane that killed more than 1,800 people and destroyed parts of New Orleans. As head of FEMA, Brown became the face of the government's slow relief efforts as victims begged for help. In the midst of the crisis, President Bush infamously heralded Brown's work, saying he was doing a "heck of a job." He maintained the information his agency gave was accurate, but "we never put it in context." "I think it's a huge failure of government to fail to trust the American people with the actual facts of what's going on." Brown spoke alongside Ray Nagin, New Orleans' mayor at the time of Katrina, in the city's Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm. Both men believe the country is still not prepared to handle a major hurricane. "I'm not convinced," Nagin said. "I don't see any major changes that we have done as a country. FEMA has new people, but it still operates pretty much the same." Brown responded: "The studies have not truly been addressed. And I think the second thing is, the American population hasn't realized what their responsibility is in the midst of a crisis." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Hurricane Katrina victims show spirit to survive in HBO’s ‘Trouble the Water’

TROUBLE THE WATER Thursday night at 8:30, HBO "Wade in the Water" has always been a disturbing yet hopeful song, and the same can be said for "Trouble the Water," a documentary that takes its title from a line in the song. The song "Wade in the Water" dates to slavery days, mixing biblical imagery with practical advice: Runaway slaves should travel in the water whenever possible, to keep bloodhounds from picking up their trail. More than 140 years passed between the official abolition of slavery and the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. But in the wake of the government's appalling failure to help the people battered by that hurricane, the question inevitably rose again about whether black folks count as much as white folks in modern-day America. That's one of several themes explored in "Trouble the Water," which looks at Katrina and its aftermath through the eyes of a young black couple who lived in New Orleans, rode out the storm there, endured the aftermath, moved away and returned. While "Trouble" takes a more personal than political approach, those perspectives soon become intertwined as hurricane victims scramble for any kind of help during and after the storm. The documentary focuses on Kimberly Roberts and her husband, Scott, who filmed their Ninth Ward neighborhood before, during and after the storm - with the express idea this footage could be worth something. "I've got stuff no one else has got," Kimberly says, and, sure enough, they sold the film and the idea to Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, who expanded it into a full documentary by incorporating newscast and other footage. The during-the-storm scenes, when the Robertses were essentially pinned in their house, isn't epic-movie dramatic. But it gives a sense of Katrina's power, underscored by a chilling replay of a 911 call from a woman trapped in an attic as the waters rise. Sorry, replies the operator, no emergency personnel are available at this time. The woman's Continue Reading

California wildfires nothing like Hurricane Katrina

SAN DIEGO - Thea Jones and I chatted outside Qualcomm Stadium next to a tent she had been calling home since Monday, when intense flames forced her from her house in Del Mar. We spoke about the conditions at the arena, which had become a relief center for 10,000 people fleeing the wildfires that have ravaged thousands of acres and devoured 2,000 homes in its path. I mentioned I had been in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and witnessed the horrid conditions at the Louisiana Superdome, where evacuees lived in squalor as they waited too long for help. Jones, 50, scoffed. "There's no comparison," she said. "Those people went through hell and the government didn't respond. Overall, we are totally blessed." She was right. The Superdome was dark and rotting the day after Katrina hit in 2005. Tens of thousands of people were stuck without food and water. The stadium's bathrooms overflowed with human waste. Authorities and relief workers were hard to come by and people - exhausted from escaping the hurricane's merciless winds and rain - were left to fend for themselves. At Qualcomm, there was no hunger or despair. The atmosphere was almost festival-like. Jugglers entertained and a band and comedians performed. Volunteers set up massage tables and evacuees were offered acupuncture and suntan lotion. There were crises counselors and yoga lessons. Verizon offered free phone calls and insurance companies were on hand. A sign advertised "Kosher Food at Gate D." San Diego police maintained a 24-hour presence and corporations and aid groups provided cots and blankets. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency was helpful. "We're here to make sure people impacted by the fires are taken care of," said FEMA spokesman Ken Higginbotham. "Everybody learned from Katrina," said another FEMA official. "That was an embarrassment." At Qualcomm, there also was a surplus of food and drink. "We have more than we need," said Tracy Continue Reading