Obama tours storm-battered New York

Story highlights

  • Obama designates HUD secretary to be point person for New York storm recovery effort
  • Gas rationing will end Friday in Nassau and Suffolk County
  • Households without power across New York down to about 4,000, officials say

President Barack Obama on Thursday designated Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan as the federal point person to lead the recovery effort from Superstorm Sandy, a little over two weeks after the rare mix of converging weather slammed into the Northeast.

"We thought it'd be good to have a New Yorker," Obama said, referencing Donovan's previous stint atop the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The agency is thought to be among the nation's largest municipal developers of low- to mid-income housing.

"FEMA basically runs the recovery process," the president said. "It doesn't focus on the rebuilding. For that, we've got to have all government agencies involved."

He addressed reporters beside Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg in hard-hit Staten Island, where more than half of New York City's 43 storm deaths occurred.

Obama also toured Rockaway Peninsula, where a tidal surge and heavy winds lashed homes and businesses and rendered much of the region without power.

"We are going to be here until the rebuilding is complete," he said. "I'm also going to be coming back in the future to make sure that we have followed through on that commitment."

Map: See images of destruction, recovery across the East Coast

As of Thursday evening, about 4,000 households remained without power across New York, officials said. It was not clear if that number included thousands of customers the Long Island Power Authority previously reported as "unable to safely receive power without customer repairs." About 1,400 customers were without power in New Jersey, officials there said.

On October 31, Obama broke from his re-election campaign to meet with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and assess the widespread damage near Atlantic City, two days after Superstorm Sandy barreled through.

On Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the federal government's typical approach to disaster relief, such as the widespread use of emergency trailers for displaced residents and long-term rental assistance, doesn't work as well in New York, where space is limited.

"New York is a unique housing environment," said Michael Byrne, federal coordinating officer for FEMA. "We had to come up with something." He said FEMA will work to make short-term repairs to homes to make them habitable. More complete repairs will come later, Byrne said.

Rental housing vacancies across New York City are less than 5%, while holiday season hotel rooms are packed with tourists and travelers, leaving few options for those in need of shelter, authorities said, so getting those hit by the storm back into their own homes became a priority.

Meanwhile, concerns over basic supplies and gas shortages have started to diminish, though New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday that his office had initiated the beginnings of "a wide-ranging investigation" over price gouging "after receiving hundreds of complaints from consumers across the state of New York."

Long Island's odd/even gas rationing program will end at midnight Friday, said Nassau and Suffolk County Executives. The program was put into effect November 9.

On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to tour areas of New Jersey hard hit by Superstorm Sandy, the White House said.

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