NEW YORK (AP) – From trying to figure out where people would live to how they would be able to vote and when all the lights will finally come on, government officials are still facing multiple fronts in the efforts to recover from Superstorm Sandy. All that, and there's another storm coming.
Where to house potentially tens of thousands of people left homeless by the storm is the most pressing crisis, as cold weather sets in.
"It's not going to be a simple task. It's going to be one of the most complicated and long-term recovery efforts in U.S. history," said Mark Merritt, president of Witt Associates, a Washington crisis management consulting firm founded by former Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt.
FEMA said it has already dispensed close to $200 million in emergency housing assistance and has put 34,000 people in New York and New Jersey up in hotels and motels. But local, state and federal officials have yet to lay out a specific, comprehensive plan for finding them long-term places to live. And given the scarcity and high cost of housing there and the lack of open space, it could prove a monumental undertaking.
Sandy killed more 100 people in 10 states but vented the worst of its fury on New Jersey and New York. A week after the storm slammed the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, more than 1 million homes and businesses remained without power.
Another storm – a nor'easter packing heavy rain and gusts of 50 to 60 mph – was headed for the area Wednesday, threatening more flooding and power outages that could undo some of the repairs made in the past few days.
With the temperatures dropping into the 30s overnight, people in dark, unheated homes were urged to go to overnight shelters or daytime warming centers.
Because so many people have been displaced by the storm, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order allowing people to vote in Tuesday's statewide and presidential elections at any polling place in the state. New Jersey had already taken similar measures.
"Just because you are displaced doesn't mean you are disenfranchised," Cuomo said. "Compared to what we have had to deal with in the past week, this will be a walk in the park when it comes to voting."
As for long-term housing for the homeless, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday that the government is looking into using everything from hotels and motels to FEMA trailers and prefab homes.
"Given the extent of need, no option is off the table," she said. "All of them will have some place in this puzzle."
Officials have yet to even establish the magnitude of the problem.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that officials are going door-to-door in hard-hit areas to assess the need for shelter. He said the worst-case estimate is 40,000 people, half of them in public housing.
But he said as many as 20,000 will probably get their heat and power back within a few days. Ultimately, the number of people who need longer-term housing could be under 10,000, he said.
In New Jersey, state officials said they are still trying to figure out how many people will need long-term housing. At least 4,000 residents were in New Jersey shelters.
Contributing to this report were Michael Hill, Larry Neumeister, Cara Anna and Christina Rexrode in New York, Alicia Caldwell in Washington and Frank Eltman in Long Beach, N.Y.
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