By Anna Gustafson
Queens legislators sprung into action after a tornado devastated the borough, offering loans for homeowners to repair damages, calling for quick tree removals from the city, urging residents to sign up for emergency alerts, and asking for state and federal aid.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Asian Americans for Equality announced Monday that they joined forces to provide a new program to help homeowners land loans to begin working on property damaged by last Thursday’s storm that uprooted trees, which tore through sidewalks and fell on homes and cars throughout the borough.
“The storm that ravaged our communities in Queens lasted only 20 minutes, but the damage it caused will take a great deal longer to repair,” Stavisky said. “These are items that are expensive to replace, and these are costs for which homeowners may not have money immediately available.”
Homeowners can apply for loans to replace or repair damaged roofs, windows, walls or siding. The loans range from $5,000 to $20,000 and have a 10-year term with a 4 percent interest rate for individuals who own one- to four-family houses and have a credit score of at least 620.
Interested homeowners should contact AAFE at 718-961-0888 for applications.
City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) asked that the city allow individuals and private contractors to cut trees blocking streets and sidewalks without a permit and without paying a fee during the cleanup.
“The city is doing great work, but there are just too many downed trees for city crews to handle on their own,” Halloran said. “I am asking the city to relax its tree and debris removal regulations while we recover from this storm. The only exception to this should be dangerous situations, such as downed trees abutting power lines.”
Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) sent a letter to the city Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno, criticizing the city for being slow in some of its cleanup efforts in the borough.
“While I applaud OEM’s organized and prompt response to the storm, I am concerned that there are still parts of Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst that have unsafe tree limbs and piles of refuse that have not been properly disposed of and are a potential safety hazard to my constituents,” Peralta wrote.
State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Halloran and Office of Emergency Management Joe Bruno urged city residents on Tuesday to sign up for the NY-Alert and Notify-NYC emergency alert systems, which provide advance warnings of weather events, like a tornado, via e-mail and text messages.
“The tornado hit our area at 5:42 and we started getting messages beginning at 5:27,” Lancman said. “Those five, ten minutes are crucial. The consequencees of not knowing really could be tragic.”
Council members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Halloran gathered in Forest Hills’ MacDonald Park Friday to announce that they sent a letter asking that the governor declare Queens an official disaster area, which would allow the borough to be able to receive federal funding.
State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Sens. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Stavisky also have called on the governor to do the same, as well as U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights).
Officials do not know yet how much the storm cost Queens, but Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said it would cost millions of dollars solely to repair the damage done in MacDonald Park.
Paterson said he has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide teams of federal inspectors to determine the extent of the damage, a step that needs to happen before he can declare Queens a disaster area.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.