New York Sandy victims meet President Obama with gratitude, skepticism

Posted at 1:59 PM, Nov 16, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-16 13:59:58-05
NEW DORP BEACH, STATEN ISLAND (PIX11) — President Barack Obama kept his promise to view in person Sandy’s damage in New York, and now thousands upon thousands of local residents whose lives were upended by the superstorm wait to see how well the president will be able to keep his promises for a full recovery.

The New Dorp Beach home of the Traina family collapsed during the the storm surge. President Barack Obama visited the neighborhood on Thursday.

“If you’re a father, and you have lots of children needing you, you can’t do it all at once,” said Sheila Traina.  TheNew Dorp Beach resident whose home collapsed in the storm surge met President Obama when he walked a block or so in her neighborhood Thursday afternoon.  She advised patience for the many people in the Tri State whose homes, like hers, are uninhabitable.

 “We were very fortunate [to have met the president]… He’s only one man.  He can only do so much.”

Traina reached into her bookbag to show a major reason why she’s pleased with the chief executive.  Her granddaughters had written to the president, asking him to help their family recover from their total loss.

Traina pulled out a handwritten note the president had handed to her to give to her granddaughters that read, “Thank you for your letter.  I’m going to help.”

Traina and her neighbors told PIX11 News that they trust the president to keep his word.  “He’s not aloof,” she said.  “He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He knows what it’s like to come from nothing.  And I believe him.”

Traina and her husband Dominic also own a deli a block away from their collapsed home.  The business lost its entire storefront in the storm.  The president made public comments in front of the store.

Sheila Traina displays a handwritten note President Barack Obama gave to her granddaughters: “Thank you for your letter. I’m going to help.”

He mentioned that he had met privately with Damien and Glenda Moore, the parents of Brandon, 2, and Connor, 4.  The two boys drowned after Sandy’s storm surge dragged them out of their mother’s arms.  But rather than talking about their own grief, the president said, the Moores singled out an NYPD supervisor who helped them cope with their loss.

President Obama wanted to see Sandy’s destruction up close.  It doesn’t get much closer… or worse — than this.  And he met with Damien and Glenda  Moore.  The Staten Island parents of the two little boys who were swept away in the storm surge.   The parents did not focus on their grief when talking with Mr. Obama.

Sheila Traina’s New Dorp Beach home was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. “We were very fortunate [to have met the president]… He’s only one man. He can only do so much.”

“They in particular mentioned Lieutenant Kevin Gallagher of the NYPD,” the president said, “who… made a point of staying with them and doing everything he could so that ultimately, they knew what had happened with the boys, and were able to recover their bodies, and has been with them as a source of support ever since.”

The commander-in-chief went on to praise the 23-year veteran himself.

“That’s not in the job description of Lieutenant Gallagher. He did that because that’s what so many of our first responders do,” the president said.  “So I want to give a shout out to Lieutenant Gallagher, but I also want to point out the Moores, even in their grief, asked me to mention Lieutenant Gallagher, and that says something about them as well.”

As for the thousands of people whose homes were damaged who did not get a personal visit from the President of the United States, their needs are as significant to them as those of people who met with the nation’s chief executive.

“Help us!” a resident on Liberty Avenue in the badly-hit neighborhood of Midland Beach said he’d tell President Obama if given the chance.  “There’s a lot more people like myself who need help.”

From in front of his condemned home, whose entire first floor was underwater after the storm, he echoed the feelings of so many others.  The greatest priority, many displaced people told PIX11 News, is adequate housing.

“There’s lots of people who have nowhere to go,” Denise Dunn said.  Her twin sister’s family of four has been living with her since the storm struck two-and-a-half weeks ago.  “Why can’t they set up FEMA trailers for these people?” she asked.

FEMA has said trailers are on the way to our area, although the agency’s main emphasis in our region, which has many densely populated areas that don’t easily lend themselves to trailers, is to allow people to live in habitable parts of their damaged homes until other repairs can be made.

The man responsible for the agency made a pledge Thursday as well, along with a warning. “Not everybody is going to be satisfied,” the president said about the size and the wait for recovery payments. “We need the insurance companies to show some heart in this as well.”

The pledge he made to New Yorkers was related to that request, and was one residents seemed eager to hold him to. “I’m going to be coming back in the future to make sure we follow through on that commitment.”

The president also announced that he was creating a recovery czar position to coordinate all agencies working on post-Sandy restoration efforts, and said that he wanted a New Yorker to oversee the effort. President Obama announced that he had tapped Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan for the position.

Donovan, a native New Yorker, had been New York City’s commissioner of Housing, Preservation and Development until 2008, when he was selected as HUD secretary by President Obama.