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As Thousands of Hurricane Sandy Survivors Still Need Homes and Heat, the 'Disaster Tourists' Come to Gawk

Common Dreams staff

Residents point to burned homes after returning to their neighborhood in Breezy Point, which was left devastated by Hurricane Sandy in the New York borough of Queens November 12, 2012. (photo: Adrees Latif /Reuters

Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy walloped parts of the U.S. northeast, thousands remain without power or their homes.

The Guardian's Ryan Devereaux reports:

The historic storm killed over 120 people in 10 US states – along with nearly 70 in the Caribbean – and knocked out power for 8.5 million. Roughly 120,000 New York and New Jersey customers remained without power through the weekend. In New York City, half of those entering their second week without heat, hot water or electricity – about 35,000 people – live in public housing. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said Sandy may have left as many as 40,000 people homeless. The Long Island Power Authority has faced harsh criticism for its response to the storm. As of Sunday evening, nearly 50,000 of the homes and businesses that rely on the company remained without power. An additional 55,000 were unable to connect to local grids due to flooded wiring and equipment.

With colder temperatures coming and still no heat for thousands, the New York Times reports that city, state and federal officials are trying to get landlords to make available their vacant apartments to house the thousands still displaced by the storm.

"There’s a huge fear that folks are going to be displaced for the medium and long term," said Mathew M. Wambua, the city’s housing commissioner. "We feel a real imperative to have something in place when the second surge comes." [...]

At a meeting in Manhattan on Wednesday evening, Shaun Donovan, the federal Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told real estate executives, “You really need to help out,” according to one executive who was present. The meeting, real estate executives said, was one element of a White House rebuilding program that President Obama is expected to announce on Thursday in Manhattan for New York, New Jersey and possibly Connecticut.

And as hurricane survivors on badly hit Staten Island sort out the tangible pieces of their lives thrown from their homes, one sight becoming familiar to them is "disaster tourists," the Associated Press reports.

"The gawking was amazing last week," Joanne McClenin, resident of a Staten Island waterfront neighborhood whose home was filled with water five feet high when Sandy hit, told AP. "It was kind of offensive as a homeowner, because I felt violated."

"Sometimes it's like we're at the zoo," Mickey Merrell, whose Staten Island neighborhood was destroyed, told AP. "So many people come and stop and stare at this place."

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