After the storm, finding housing is daunting task

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NEW YORK -- New York City officials said Sunday that they faced the daunting challenge of finding homes for as many as 40,000 people who were left homeless after the devastation of last week's storm, a situation that Mayor Michael Bloomberg compared to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The mayor said the 40,000 figure was a worst-case scenario given by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and that a more realistic assessment was 20,000 people -- the bulk of which would be public housing residents. Even in the best-case scenario, he said, the task will be formidable.

"We don't have a lot of empty housing in this city," Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference Sunday. "We are not going to let anybody go sleeping in the streets or go without blankets, but it's a challenge, and we're working on that as fast as we can."

It is a task shared throughout the region, as officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut struggle to meet the demands of those whose homes have been left uninhabitable. In some cases, the solution may be a familiar, if unwelcome, sight: the trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina.

Craig Fugate, director of the agency, said most displaced people would likely be housed in hotels or apartments. But for some in regions like Long Island, with its many single-family homes and few large apartment blocks, he said there was a shortage of vacant housing.

Even as utility companies work to restore power to millions of customers without it, a northeaster, projected to land midweek, may hit the already battered coastal areas with heavy winds and strong waves that could cause more flooding and tear down power lines recently replaced and stop repair workers in their tracks.

"The first concern is slowing the army that we've got down; the second is more outages," said John Miksad, Consolidated Edison's senior vice president for electric operations. "It certainly does complicate the restoration."

A week after Hurricane Sandy tore through the region, millions have regained electricity, mass transit is on the mend and volunteers have rushed in to help. On Sunday, some runners who had expected to compete in the New York City Marathon, which was canceled, instead pitched in to haul fallen trees and to distribute clothing and food in the city's most heavily damaged regions. Others ran a modified marathon route in Central Park.

In many regions, power is still lacking and fuel is nowhere to be found. As of Sunday, the number of utility customers without power was over 1.8 million, the Energy Department said; that included more than 900,000 in New Jersey, 280,000 served by the Long Island Power Authority and 198,000 Con Edison customers -- nearly half of them in Westchester. Gasoline shortages persisted with rationing imposed in New Jersey and lines at some gas stations stretching for miles.

And with recovery times in some areas projected to last months, a sense of desperation appeared to have set in. In parts of Staten Island, Long Island and coastal New Jersey, many still reside in dank, water-logged houses and survive on food handouts from federal agencies and the National Guard.

FEMA announced Sunday that it would begin providing transitional housing to those who could not return to their homes. Mr. Fugate said hotels and temporary apartments would be available to those families who register with the agency.

As of 3 p.m. Sunday, 182,000 residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had applied for disaster assistance, and $158 million has been approved, he said. Some share of those residents will need a temporary place to stay.

Officials were scrambling to prepare for the onset of cold weather. New York City has opened heating shelters and is passing out blankets to residents without electricity.

Temperatures throughout the region were expected to fall Sunday evening into the 30s, and the National Weather Service issued a freeze watch for parts of New Jersey, including the coast, the scene of some of the worst damage. Officials have urged residents across the region to head to shelters.

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