FEMA: Operations shift from rescue to mass care

Washington — Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said Thursday he’s not ready to meet requests from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the governors of New Jersey and New York for 100 percent reimbursement for all expenses associated with Hurricane Sandy.

“We don’t see the need for that yet,” Fugate said.

FEMA can recommend to the White House that the federal government reimburse up to 90 percent of what state and local governments are spending to respond to a disaster — a 100 percent reimbursement rate would require an act of Congress

But right now, most costs will be reimbursed at a 75 percent rate, except for expenses relating to power restoration and emergency transportation needs for the first 10 days after Sandy hit, Fugate said in a teleconference. Those limited expenses, which include the cost of calling up National Guard troops to help restore power, will be reimbursed at a 100 percent rate.

Fugate said an increase in the states’ cost-sharing rate will be considered when expenses related to Sandy reach $131 per capita.

While Connecticut’s state and local governments may not be receiving as much help from Washington as they’d like, President Obama declared the state’s four coastal counties major disaster areas Tuesday, allowing its storm-hit residents to apply for a variety of aid, from payments for temporary housing and grants to repair demolished homes to low-interest business loans.

As of Thursday, however, FEMA had paid only about $5,000 to house displaced people in Connecticut.

Fugate said FEMA will begin establishing recovery offices in Connecticut Thursday, but the addresses of these offices were not immediately available.

Storm victims in New London, Middlesex, New Haven and Fairfield counties, as well as the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations, can also register for federal help by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or online at www.disasterassistance.gov.

Fugate said FEMA shifted from a search-and-rescue-focused operation to a “mass care” operation Thursday, focused on sheltering and feeding storm victims.

He also said the Department of Defense will begin airlifting power crews from California and other West Coast areas to Connecticut, New Jersey and New York Thursday afternoon.

Red Cross Senior Vice President of Disaster Services Charley Shimanski said more than 100 shelters are open in nine states, but “access into many areas is still very difficult.”

“So we are asking people to check on their neighbors,” Shimakski said.