Many of the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey turned to FEMA for help and according to reports, FEMA has failed them miserably. The unhappy residents of Camp Freedom in Oceanport are adamant the camp resembles a prison instead of a rescue effort for people made homeless by a natural disaster.
Reporter Stephen Edelson, from the Ashbury Park Press, saw Camp Freedom with his own eyes and spoke with some of the residents. Even talking to someone from inside the camp comes with risks, as the press has been made to feel rather unwelcome. Within minutes of arriving at the camp, guards told the reporter to move his car or it would be towed away, even though he was parked outside the camp.
The intrepid reporter decided to risk the displeasure of the guards and he was shocked by what he saw. The camp is surrounded by razor wire topped fences and, unbelievably, Blackhawk helicopters fly overhead. Guards are everywhere, heat is in short supply and camp residents line up in the cold to use portable toilets. The victims of Hurricane Sandy are required to wear special id tags at all times and in Edelson’s own words, “it more closely resembles a prison camp.”
Since the press is not permitted inside the camp, Edelson was forced to talk to some of the residents outside the fences. Hopefully they were not subjected to any retribution when they returned to the camp.
Brian Sotelo was one of the camp residents willing to come outside and talk. He was furious at the treatment inside the fences and he was reaching his breaking point. Sotelo and his wife and three kids were transferred to Camp Freedom from another collection point just before the hurricane struck, and he was stunned by what he has seen since his arrival.
“Sitting there last night you could see your breath. At (Pine Belt) the Red Cross made an announcement that they were sending us to permanent structures up here that had just been redone, that had washing machines and hot showers and steady electric, and they sent us to tent city. We got (expletive). The elections are over and here we are. There were Blackhawk helicopters flying over all day and night. They have heavy equipment moving past the tents all night.”
“My 6-year-old daughter Angie was a premie and has a problem regulating her body temperature. Until 11 (Wednesday) night they had no medical personnel at all here, not even a nurse. After everyone started complaining and they found out we were contacting the press, they brought people in. Every time we plugged in an iPhone or something, the cops would come and unplug them. Yet when they moved us in they laid out cable on the table and the electricians told us they were setting up charging stations. But suddenly there wasn’t enough power.”
“Everybody is angry over here. It’s like being prison. I’ve been working since I was 10. I’ve been on my own since I was 16. And for things to be so bad that it’s pissing me off, that tells you something.”
The cold is so bad that people are huddled in plastic bags and blankets and you can see the steam coming off their breath. When residents of the camp started to complain and they were overheard contacting their family or the press, electrical power was restricted and things started to get ugly. People were told they could not take pictures, the wifi was disconnected and charging stations for cell phones suddenly had no juice.
Across the Hudson, on Staten Island, New York State is considering using the closed Arthur Kill Correctional Facility to house up to 900 victims of Sandy. First they need to get the electricity, plumbing and heating back in working order, but at least its indoors.
More than 5000 Staten Island residents have applied for temporary FEMA housing but only about two dozen have been placed. The government has consistently refused outside aid and even banned volunteer groups from delivering food because it may violate Federal regulations.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration, and their subservient allies at the New York Times, once again blamed Bush and called for more Federal intervention in an op-ed titled A Big Storm Requires Big Government:
“It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.”
Treating disaster victims like prisoners has become an all too familiar trend since the dismal failure of FEMA during Katrina. If forcing people to sit huddled in blankets, while the snow and slush slowly slides in from the edges of their freezing tents, is truly the best FEMA can do, than American tax payers have every right to question how FEMA is spending the billions of dollars Homeland Security gives them every year. Treating citizens like prisoners is beyond the pale and letting them freeze is unacceptable. It is simply not the American way.