The Manhattan Beach esplanade the day after Superstorm Sandy.

Residents of Manhattan Beach were left with more questions than answers after a meeting last night with a FEMA spokesperson that was meant to help people understand the mystifying world of federal disaster aid. The meeting was held by the Manhattan Beach Community Group where residents were invited to question FEMA about the recovery process and new programs to aid Superstorm Sandy victims.

“We keep trying to get someone [from FEMA] who can answer our questions,” said Bernice Fleischer, vice president of the community group. “And I’m afraid tonight was less than satisfactory.”

FEMA agent Corinne Azrak, who deals with external affairs for the agency, came to the meeting in an attempt to answer questions people had about Superstorm Sandy aid. But she prefaced her answers by explaining the limitations of FEMA.

“We’re a disaster response agency. Our job is to get the community back to the way it was before it got hit,” Azrak said. So they can’t do things like build a levy, yet most attendees were concerned with such preventative issues.

This wasn’t the first time that the MBCG invited a representative from a disaster aid program. Last month a member from NY Rising, a state program that funnels money to local communities for resiliency and recovery effots, became the object of frustration because of how slow moving the process was taking.

One member of the community asked if FEMA could give the city and state government advice since they were the ones on the ground witnessing the damages. One example was given about the construction that was done on Manhattan Beach’s esplanade to raise it by four feet. Other members piped in and said that they thought it was dangerous to have such a high esplanade because if another storm like Sandy hits, the concrete might be dislodged and move inshore where it could become a hazard.

“It’s a city issue,” Azrak said. “We can’t tell the city how to run the emergency plans.”

But on the subject of FEMA meeting with different entitie,s like the Army Corps of Engineers, and members of the city government, Azrak said, “I’m sure they have those high level meetings somewhere. I’ve just never been privy to them.”

Community members soon discovered what Azrak meant when she prefaced her talk by explaining the limitations of FEMA. With most issues that were asked, Azrak responded that it was some other entity’s responsibility.

But one question Azrak was able to answer was about how FEMA decides on the amount of money individual homes receive. One community member asked why is it that two neighboring houses that have seemingly identical damages can receive very different amounts of aid money.

“It is a case by case basis,” Azrak explained. So while the damages may seem identical, there might be a problem with one house’s boiler while the neighboring house’s boiler remained unscathed.

Another reason for disparities in aid is because FEMA only pays to repair “habitable areas.” If a house has two bedrooms but only one of the bedrooms is in use, they won’t pay for the vacant room.

The person who asked the question wasn’t satisfied with this response.

“It all seems to be very subjective and arbitrary,” he said.

Many members were also worried about the mandatory flood insurance requirements, slated for 2015 when the new flood maps will take effect.

One man said that FEMA had given him a quote that would have given him more money than his own private insurance.

“It seems to me that your agency will pay me more than my insurance,” he said. “What seems to be the reality is my taxes will go up. My mortgage will go up but aid” from his insurance will go down.

Fleischer, the vice-president, thanked Azrak for coming, but noted, “This is a very frustrated community.”

Members of Manhattan Beach Community Group weren’t the only ones frustrated by FEMA’s lackluster response at local meetings. During a Marine Park Civic Association meeting last week, attendees became frustrated with the FEMA representative that had come to that meeting to answer questions. The group’s president, Jim Ivaliotis, wrote an apology to group members in their latest newsletter.

“It seems FEMA left us with more questions than answers,” he wrote. “Despite our coordinated efforts with them, things did not go as planned.”

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  • Aristophanes is Ridiculous

    I am so disgusted from this process. I was approved for a $150K loan from the SBA. I planned on using only $100K of it to elevate the house above the flood level and finish the remodel. I was just told by the SBA that I cannot use funds from the loan to elevate. I used all of my available funds (e.g. insurance, 401K, savings) already and was depending on the loan. I do not understand what is wrong with these people. They only want you to fix the house as it was before and forbid you to take any precaution to avoid future disaster. Why would they even care as long as the loan goes into the home? After all it is a loan that I have to pay back. If I cannot elevate, I’ve been told that the $2K/year I’ve been paying for flood insurance (for the last 15 years) will increase to over $9K/year. There is no way to squeeze any more blood out of this stone. We really need to allow a little common sense to enter the process.

    • http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/ Ned Berke

      There’s been a lot of miscommunication regarding the insurance rate hikes. While I’m a little lost with it myself, I can say that nothing – NOTHING – about it is set in stone. The hikes themselves have been delayed and Congress has directed the agencies to research the effects. A bill is in the House now for a vote (next week, I believe) that would keep the rates where they are. In the long term, there will need to be a change in rates – there’s simply no money to sustain the program – but how they do it is just as important as if they do it. Only time will tell.

  • nolastname

    I’m sure Corinne did the best she could with the Q & A but “not privy” to some meeting means she does not have all the answers. The opportunity to discuss such a delicate situation won’t happen again anytime soon, that being said maybe someone who does have all the answers should be invited to speak. The other thing I need to mention….. If one penny of my taxed dollar is going to the esplanade the general public better be able to walk/run/ride a bike on it to Brighton. Just sayin’ as I usually do. ;-)

  • RJ

    What Corinne really wanted to say, but couldn’t, is, “you willingly purchased a house right next to the ocean, and, having had a semblance of science education at some point in your life, should have fully understood the inevitable reality of the sandy situation… and yet, by free will, choose to set up home by the waterfront, and, now that science has played out in real time, just as it has all over the world in places like haiti and the tornado belt and the phillipines, expect others to pay for your misfortune.” Had she said that, I’m sure the majority of you would be able to rationalize that the u.s. government can’t lend you taxpayer money to make repairs to a house that will inevitable wash away when a category 2-5 hurricane hits in similar fashion. The fact of the matter is, you chose to live near a major body of water. Did you not expect the ocean to one day stroll through your property as if you lived in a bubble?

    Mother nature is by far, more powerful than the u.s. government. I believe that everyone deserves aid in the form of food and water in times of need, but to expect a form of entitlement in an area that will one day wash away again… How is that a viable user of taxpayer funds?

    • Anon victim

      My family has lived on the waterfront for over 60 years. Never had a flood – until Sandy. Environmentalists have been trying to warn the government for 30 -40 years of what was down the road and what could be and should be done to reduce the risks and mitigate the damage. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Washington is still full of global warming deniers. Big oil still lobbies and fights any and all calls for alternatives, for lowering carbon output. Don’t you think that if the Government had heeded the advice of scientists we would be in this situation to the degree that we are? They do bear some responsibility for the damage. They should have woken up to the science a long time ago.

      • bagels

        They call it climate “change” now. We can enact all the regulations we want and tax the heck out of corporations but unless the 2 billion people on the other side of the world in China and India get on board it will all be for nothing. Having said that, we should still be devoting research dollars to finding cleaner methods of providing energy.

        • nolastname

          The real fact is we are screwed.
          The methods for clean energy are there…wind and water.
          We got plenty of that but with all the major corporations in gas and electric who would see the profit????? Not the average Joe, Oh wait it would be the average Joe. Both monetarily and in being green.
          Now for the thing I have said before…call me crazy I can take it….I remember learning that ALL electricity is heat, static is heat, motion is heat. All the computers, phones appliances, means of transportation and lots of other stuff combined, I say you got a fire going…..Technology will kill us.

    • nolastname

      Are you single?

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