NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. /New York Netwire/ — This morning, NYC Mayor Bloomberg addressed media with an update on the status of Hurricane Sandy response efforts, including food and water distribution to begin in areas hit hardest by the storm.
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered this morning at City Hall:
“Good morning. And let me thank signer Pam Mitchell for joining us again today. I want also thank our partners in government, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who’s doing other things at the moment, and Speaker Shelly Silver. And Senator Dan Squadron, incidentally, my staff keeps saying that of all the people he is just been the most helpful. So thank you. And Margaret Chin, if she comes – oh Margaret, thank you. I didn’t see you. But these are people that my staff has mentioned to me they’ve been working with, and I just wanted to single them out for special recognition.
“We’re going to bring everyone up to date on the city’s continued recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
“We are taking some new steps, working with Governor Cuomo, other State elected officials and City officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and NYC Service to provide food and water to those most in need.
“I’m going to be, after this update, joining Governor Cuomo and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Manhattan entrance of the Hugh Carey Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. We’re going to survey the damage there and discuss next steps for the recovery.
“There are people who are now transitioning from shock to the real world problems of how do you get water and how do you get food, and we are working on those, and we’ll talk about that in a little while.
“We have found a few more deceased, and once again our hearts go out to them, but what we’ve got to do is recover for their families and make sure that this city and those they left behind have a future.
“Today, our police officers and firefighters continue carrying out their lifesaving mission: Going block by block and door-to-door in the areas devastated by the hurricane, searching for those in need of help.
“The grim reality is that in the process we find more victims. At this point, we know that Sandy took the lives of at least 37 New Yorkers.
“And let me caution everyone listening or watching this conference that as the first responders continue their rescue and recovery work, that number may well continue to rise.
“The full toll Hurricane Sandy took on New Yorkers is still emerging. Our hearts are filled with sorrow for those who lost their loved ones. And our hearts are filled with pride at exactly the same time for the work our Bravest and Finest are doing. Both can go on at the same time – our ability to grieve, but also our ability to thank those who are really going the extra mile and to congratulate them.
“I think that the best way to express these sentiments was something yesterday. I was with City Councilmen Vincent Ignizio and Jimmy Oddo and Staten Island Borough President and visited Tottenville, where Sandy knocked homes right off their foundations. And we went inside and talked to some people about their house and their aspirations for the future. One of them was a young woman who’s a teacher – substitute teacher waiting for a permanent position in our school system, and while there were deceased just three doors away – a family lost their lives – we were able to talk about what we need to do to continue making this the best city and giving all of our citizens the opportunities that we want for them.
“Today we’re also taking new steps to prevent further suffering from Sandy as the days go on. Many people in hard hit areas across the city, including many in public City housing, need fresh water and food. And so today, starting at roughly 3:00 PM we will begin distributing thousands of bottles of water and thousands of pre-prepared meals at a number of locations in hard-hit areas. This will continue until 6:00 PM today.
“These distributions will resume tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM and go until 12:30 PM. Same thing Saturday and Sunday, they will be from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, but we are over the next few days going to have to work out some procedures to make sure people can get food. Some will have their electricity back and they’ll be back to a roughly normal situation – the stores will be open, they’ll have food and they’ll have elevator service and that’s fine, but then there are some who are clearly going to be in buildings where getting them back and getting electricity and the elevators going, other services, is much more problematic and we’re going to have to find some long-term or longer-term solutions to this.
“Our focus right now is taking care of the immediate needs of everyone, and some of our resources will be able to be devoted to longer-term as the subways get back and the electricity comes on.
“We’ve given out a half million flyers in English, Spanish, and Chinese in the areas including Coney Island, the South Shore of Staten Island, Chinatown, the Rockaways, and the elected officials standing with me today will also help us get the word out in the communities. Locations will also be posted at nyc.gov.
“A lot of people don’t have electricity so they can’t exactly go on the internet, but nevertheless some people can do it for them.
“Each person will be able to take three meals and five bottles of water home from these staging areas. People should bring their own bags for the food and water if at all possible.
“Speaker Christine Quinn and her colleagues on the City Council work closely with us and the affected communities on this effort, as has Speaker Silver and other State and Federal elected officials.
“In fact, this operation involves strong cooperation among City, State, and Federal agencies, and with private sector partners. And I particularly wanted to thank the State Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for their work.
“There will, for example, be some 400 members of the National Guard and 150 NYC Service volunteers involved in this effort by going door-to-door taking meals to homebound residents. Some people are up in high buildings, no elevator, they’re elderly and they would have a real problem in coming down to the ground. Our problems are making sure they know there’s food available. We do that by knocking on the door and sticking fliers underneath, but also then we’ve got to get the food to them and we do that the old fashioned way: we pick it up and walk up the stairs and hand it to them.
“There are some 24 staff of the Salvation Army also involved, and I wanted to thank them.
“Supplies were delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in coordination with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Management. Many companies and individuals have made generous offers to support this effort in the days ahead.
“Getting this up and running has been a true public-private partnership with every level of government and the private and non-profit sectors working together. And I want to thank everyone involved.
“The Governor and I talk regularly during all of this, and he’s been as helpful as you can possibly be, and I think the coordination once again between Federal, State, City and private is something that maybe has never been experienced at this level, certainly of this magnitude, before.
“I also want to thank Randall Stephenson, I met with him this morning. He is the CEO of AT&T, and he assured me that they are doing everything to get normal service back up and running. In addition, AT&T will bring what they call pods. It’s basically a truck that has a satellite connection and has then a WiFi connection or a cell connection from the top of the truck. If you have AT&T on your mobile phone you’ll be able to walk over. That will get you phone service from places where the cell towers are no longer working. And that truck will also help you in charging your phones, another problem when we don’t have the electricity that we’ve come so much to depend on.
“These pods will be in the vicinity of our food and distribution centers, so pretty much as much one-stop shopping as we can make it. We’ll keep these distribution centers open as long as they are needed, and we will announce our plans to add additional resources in these areas shortly.
“Some people have called and asked how they can make cash donations. We basically don’t need other things. The logistics of distributing canned goods and things like that when we have something of this magnitude really are not a good use of everybody’s time, but if you want to make cash donations to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, you can get them through 311 or nyc.gov. You’ll be sure that 100 percent of your donations go directly to relief efforts and organizations.
“What those will be and how we’re going to do it is something for next week. We’re at the point here where we just have to focus all our attention on taking care of those who don’t have a place to sleep, don’t have food, and are worried about whether the buildings that they come from will stand up.
“As I’ve stressed for the past several days, getting New York City back on its feet means meeting two paramount challenges: Restoring mass transit service and restoring electrical power to areas where it has been disrupted. And there’s progress to report on both fronts today.
“First, as to mass transit: The MTA did a phenomenal job getting subway service partially restored in just a few days. And once again I want to thank Governor Cuomo and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota for deciding to waive the fares on all subways and buses through tomorrow – it was the right decision. I wish they’d do it all along, unfortunately they can’t do that until Shelly Silver comes up with another way of funding them. But I would never say that here when Shelly’s standing next to me.
“They’re also doing, seriously, a great job getting commuter rail service back up and running. There are still plenty of people whose commutes remain upended, and many more people who were at least today started to be able to get back to work, but it’s a very difficult commute.
“The restrictions on passenger vehicles that the City and State have put on most of the main bridges into Manhattan and the Lincoln Tunnel were implemented today – and while it helped alleviate some of the severe congestion we saw yesterday, traffic this morning remains very heavy. We urge everyone to take mass transit wherever possible.
“Today limited East River Ferry service resumed. Staten Island Ferry Service we think will resume within the next day or so and should be running on a full schedule by Saturday. The three airports serving our city have reopened.
“However, there remains no subway service in Manhattan south of 34th Street, and between Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn.
“There’s no question that travel in our city yesterday was extremely difficult. In fact, the roads were so clogged that we really did worry about getting emergency service vehicles through. And so no matter how inconvenient it may be to stop people from bringing their cars into the city or making it more difficult to do so. Safety is once again our paramount concern, not convenience. And so we did take some steps to mitigate that problem.
“Yesterday, as you know, I issued an order restricting auto traffic into Manhattan on the four East River bridges during the busiest hours of the day and night to vehicles carrying at least three people.
“Governor Cuomo has made the same restriction effective for traffic entering Manhattan on the Triborough and Henry Hudson Bridges, and through the Lincoln Tunnel. The restrictions began this morning at 6:00 AM and remain effective until midnight. They will also be in effect from 6:00 AM until midnight Friday.
“Vehicles exempt from them include commercial vehicles, taxis, emergency, and para-transit vehicles, vehicles with handicap plates or placards, livery cabs and other for-hire cars, and buses.
“I should note that the NYPD and DOT are working with the MTA and Port Authority to put these measures in place.
“Some have asked for special treatment. But the bottom line is we are just not equipped to grant exemptions. Hopefully tomorrow will be the last day these restrictions apply, so please bear with us. I know it’s annoying, I know it’s inconvenient, but we have to think about the security and safety of the people here.
“During the morning and evening rush hours, you should know that police recruits are directing traffic at intersections where traffic signals are not operating.
“The news from Con Ed is that we should have most of traffic lights and the power for those areas back certainly before the end of the weekend, and my hope is at the beginning of the weekend. Some have already come back.
“We are also establishing bus lanes on key corridors. Please stay out of the bus lanes if you’re not a bus. We also resumed limited East River ferry service from Brooklyn and Queens to the landings at East 34th Street and Lower Manhattan.
“And I strongly urge everyone not to take their cars into Manhattan if you have any other travel option, even walking across the bridge. Please do it, it’ll probably be faster than taking your car.
“Con Ed, as I said, is making progress in restoring electric service. Since yesterday, the lights have come back on for many people in South Brooklyn, on Staten Island, and in some small parts of Lower Manhattan. And crews from as far away as California are working around the clock to restore power citywide.
“Most of them are working where there are overhead lines and enormous number of trees have come down. They face a huge job. Currently some 534,000 customers citywide remain without electrical service.
“The good news is that roughly 40 percent of that total – some 228,000 – are in Manhattan, most of them concentrated below 34th Street. When Con Ed fixes one station, an awful lot of that should come back very quickly. It’s an easier job than going out with every single individual power line down.
“There are some 43,000 customers without power in the Rockaways, and Con Ed is focusing there as well. These are huge numbers – but they are down substantially from the 643,000 customers who had no power at roughly this time yesterday.
“The task of restoring power is going to take a lot of time; but the good news is they are working aggressively. In fact, Con Ed informs me that they are making very good progress, even a little bit better than what they had anticipated.
“They also tell us that there are parts of the city served by overhead lines that might not get done until the end of next week. There are just so many of them, we’d have volunteer crews from across the country, but it’s just an enormous job and you have to go up in a bucket and fix each one as you get to it.
“In the meantime, for anyone without power, if you are using candles, and I can’t stress this enough, exercise extreme caution. Do not leave them burning through the night, and don’t leave them unattended.
“I said this yesterday, and then last night, we had a serious fire in the Rockaways that was started by candles. We just don’t need any more fatalities.
“Yesterday, we announced that Bellevue Hospital was being evacuated. There were 700 patients there yesterday; there are seven there this morning, and they will be evacuated shortly.
“There are about 6,800 people in our city evacuation shelters. Today we’re consolidating our shelter system; where there have been 76, many of them have had only a few people staying in them. We’re going to consolidate it down to 15, and we will transfer people if they can’t go home to those places.
“Once again, it may be a little bit inconvenient, but we need the schools back to get ready for next week, and we just don’t have enough staff to staff a center where there’s not demand.
“Make no mistake, however, the shelters will be available for people that need them, they just might not be as convenient as everybody would like.
“The volunteers and City employees manning these shelters have done a phenomenal job, I wanted to thank them. I also want to thank New Yorkers who’ve come forward to donate, volunteer, or provide other help.
“I also want to thank the elected officials in the city who’ve been so helpful during this time.
“Before taking questions, let me summarize some other key elements of our recovery. We will open the majority of City parks and playgrounds by 8am Saturday. You can go to nyc.gov for more information. They’re closed in the meantime; please stay away from them until we say it’s safe to return.
“Trees can still come down. There’s an awful lot of water that makes them less stable, and the slightest bit of wind or just something gives up – we’ve had too many people die from trees falling on them tragically. Two young children yesterday were inside playing and a tree collapsed the house and killed both of them.
“Our beaches: please stay away from them. They are not safe. Because of the sewer system discharges during the hurricane, the water could be polluted. Please don’t go in the Hudson or East Rivers, New York Harbor, Jamaica Bay or Kill Van Kull, or on them in a canoe or kayak or for wind-surfing or anything like that until further notice. We just don’t need another disaster, and it is not safe.
“Incidentally, in terms of water, the City’s water supply is safe. We keep testing it and testing it. There was an article in the paper saying the Centers for Disease Control said boil. The Centers for Disease Control categorically says they never said that, I don’t know where the story came from. Our tap water gets tested again and again and again, and we did put extra chlorine in it just as a little bit of a precaution so if it tastes a tiny bit funny, that’s in your interest.
“Public school teachers, principals, and staff should report for work at their schools tomorrow morning. We plan to reopen public schools for classes on Monday and we have a lot of work to do to get ready after these kids have been out of school for a week.
“Yesterday, we described a package of measures the City’s economic development team has put together to help businesses recover from the storm. They include emergency low-cost loans, and a deferral of sales taxes on purchases of rebuilding materials. Call 311 or go to nyc.gov for further details.
“And all New Yorkers affected by Sandy can register for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You go to DisasterAssistance.gov or call the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 1-800-621-3362. That’s 1-800-621-3362.
“The inspections of the crane on West 57th Street are complete, and today the Department of Buildings is reviewing the plan to secure it.
“I’m happy to say that the City has now lifted the ban on exterior construction work that we imposed in advance of the storm. That will get a lot of people back to work, and I think it’s fair to say to thank the construction companies across the city. There were almost no cases of material blowing off these buildings in one of the strongest storms we’ve ever seen, so they really did listen and do a good job.
“I think that’s a good place to summarize today’s recovery, New York’s recovery is underway. New York is starting to build again.
“Let me turn the floor over to Shelly Silver.”