(MCT) — PHILADELPHIA — Federal officials moved to establish disaster-recovery centers in storm-damaged areas of New Jersey as relief equipment and workers poured in, aid money began to flow, and state police were dispatched to arrest looters.
Mobile recovery centers will be set up first, followed by permanent centers for residents and business owners to file applications for aid, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday.
State and local officials will help determine where the FEMA centers are put, Fugate said.
By Thursday morning, more than 36,000 storm victims from New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut had applied for federal disaster assistance, and more than $3.4 million in aid had been approved for some of them, President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sent state police to help protect hard-hit Shore towns from looters. State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa vowed looters would face stiff penalties.
“We want those hardest hit by Sandy to know that there is an increased police presence in these Shore communities and that we will be vigilant with respect to their homes and businesses while they are forced to remain inland for their safety,” Chiesa said. “At this time, fortunately, we have not received reports of any extensive looting.”
The Obama administration said Thursday it would provide about $16 million to hire 1,000 temporary workers in New Jersey to aid with storm cleanup. The money will go toward work on public structures as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The administration also said it would give $10 million to New Jersey for emergency road repairs and reimburse 100 percent of the cost of emergency power and public transportation through Nov. 9 in the New Jersey counties covered under the expanding federal disaster declaration.
That’s an increase from the standard 75 percent share the federal government bears.
“This additional federal aid will help relieve the burden on the state and local governments as they respond to the enormous damage caused by Hurricane Sandy,” the state’s two U.S. senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both Democrats, said in a statement. “This additional federal support will mean we can continue the cleanup and recovery effort without delay.”
Lautenberg and Menendez asked Obama on Thursday to send gasoline and diesel fuel to alleviate critical shortages for emergency vehicles and facilities such as sewage-treatment plants.
And they asked FEMA to airlift additional equipment, such as more backup generators, dryers, and fuel to electric utilities to aid their efforts to restore power. More than 1.7 million customers in New Jersey remain without power — down from more than 2.7 million at the height of the outages.
Obama added two more New Jersey counties — Bergen and Somerset — to the eight previously declared disaster areas, including Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean Counties, because of Sandy’s winds and flooding.
More counties may be added to the list as federal inspectors assess damages.
Although no price tag has been put on the damage, Fugate said he was not worried about running short of federal money.
FEMA’s disaster-relief fund currently has $3.6 billion in it, and additional congressional appropriations are likely.
“We’re not going to run out of money in the disaster-relief fund,” Fugate said.
No FEMA trailers are expected to house displaced residents, as was the case after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fugate said enough motels, hotels, and rental units were available to accommodate Sandy victims.
About 9,000 people are now housed in temporary shelters, he said.
Some Shore residents began to return to their homes after Christie lifted the mandatory-evacuation order for the Atlantic County communities of Brigantine Beach, Margate City, and Longport Borough and the Cape May County towns of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, North Wildwood, West Wildwood, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Sea Isle City, and Ocean City.
On hard-hit Long Beach Island, residents will not be allowed back until at least Wednesday, Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini said Thursday.
“We have 300 gas leaks down here on the southern end,” Mancini told reporters as he showed them the Holgate section, where streets were still filled with sand, many homes were destroyed, and the smell of leaking gas filled the air.
“We lost 22-foot-high sand dunes,” Mancini said. “We have a monumental task here.”
As the mayor was answering reporters’ questions, he learned by phone that police officers had apparently turned away FEMA representatives.
That made the mayor hot.
“We need FEMA here,” Mancini said. He said he needed some idea of what FEMA would authorize and fund. He also said he required FEMA’s advice on “what to knock down and what not to knock down. I need the OK from FEMA.”
He said that 100 National Guard troops were on the island, and that 40 engineers had just arrived.
All day long, trucks streamed onto the island from construction companies, earth-moving companies, utility companies, and local police departments.
Residents kept trying to get on but were turned away. Some began arriving by boat to check out their properties, though the mayor passionately discouraged that. An undetermined number of residents stayed on the island throughout the storm and remained without power or water.
Fugate said real-time maps on Google Crisismaps would show locations of the FEMA disaster-recovery centers as they are established.
“I can’t help if they haven’t notified us they need help,” Fugate said Thursday.
As federal crews and volunteers began the “mass care” phase of the recovery effort, Fugate expressed frustration that not all victims had been found or assisted.
“I’m the most impatient and hard-to-please person in the world” when it comes to getting aid to victims, he said, noting that “today is the day that it is imperative that we reach people” who have not received food or shelter.
(Staff writer Michael Vitez contributed to this article.)