By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
“We were battered, but we are not beat. We are bloodied but we are not bowed. The storm was strong, but we are stronger. We are Newark,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Booker today his city was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. It caused tremendous water damage to homes and businesses in the low lying East Ward or Ironbound section. And the sustained power outage he said probably touched 80 percent of Newark residents.
“You have to understand, we have a lot of our population that lives at or below the poverty line,” Booker said. “And to have medicines, to have food and other things destroyed, it’s very, very problematic.”
Booker spoke at the opening of the state’s 23rd FEMA assistance center, this one in central Newark with about 40 federal workers on hand. We found one or two residents looking for help.
“Hurricane Sandy blew our lights for three and a half days. The meat spoiled. FEMA was here so we came to see if we could get some sort of assistance,” said Newark resident Ernest Lee. “I’m on a fixed income so I can’t afford to go buy groceries again. My refrigerator’s empty now.”
But FEMA centers are not for food assistance. “This is not a food bank. We don’t give money here. We don’t give food here,” said FEMA spokesman Alberto Pillot. “We’re here to assist people who had damages to their dwellings.”
Mayor Booker urged Newark residents and businesses affected by the storm to register with FEMA here and said the city and its churches can meet any other need the federal government cannot.
“So there’s no reason for anyone in our city right now, there’s no reason, whether they need medical support, whether they need personal hygeince products, whether they need food, whether they need baby supplies. There is no reason why anybody right now should be suffering alone.”
Booker said the night of the storm around 1 a.m., he got a call from President Obama. They talked for a while and 10 minutes later Gov. Christie called. He called the level of communication and cooperation he has seen over the past two weeks unprecedented.
“I’ve seen crises come and I’ve been in elected office now from periods that went from 9/11 all the way through hurricanes, through 100 year snowstorms and the like,” Booker said. “As much as this was the worst storm that I’ve seen, this is the best that the people’s government — federal, state and local — have worked together in my history and my experience.”