November 9, 2012
Residents of New Jersey, whose homes were ravaged by superstorm Sandy and are now having to endure yet another wintery storm, are revealing through first-hand accounts that at least one tent camp FEMA is providing more strongly resembles a prison.
According to the Asbury Park Press, some displaced New Jersey residents have had to relocate to FEMA tent camps in the northeastern part of the state in efforts to secure better shelter, running hot water and washing machines, but members of at least one camp are saying that none of what was promised is available.
“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),” distraught Oceanport camp resident Brian Sotelo said.
As if adding insult to injury, the camp is referred to as “Camp Freedom,” however, Sotelo says camp residents feel more like they’re imprisoned: “Everybody is angry over here. It’s like being prison [sic].”
As no media is allowed beyond the fences of the camp, what little news has managed to escape the area is disturbing. Angered residents are revealing that they are intentionally being kept quiet, being denied electricity to charge their phones and suspect surveillance by roving vehicle patrols.
Sotelo also noted that several members of the camp had tried to contact the media regarding the horrendous living conditions, but were met with opposition: “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.”
“As Sotelo tells it, when it became clear that the residents were less than enamored with their new accommodations Wednesday night and were letting the outside world know about it, officials tried to stop them from taking pictures, turned off the WiFi and said they couldn’t charge their smart phones because there wasn’t enough power,” reports Stephen Edelson of the Asbury Park Press.
According to Sotelo, victims are not being allowed to return to their homes, even though, as part of a relief crew, he’s driven past his own rented home several times, noting it had only sustained about a foot’s worth of water damage.
A Department of Human Services spokesperson refuted Sotelo’s claims, saying that “staff at the micro-city are providing for the needs of all the evacuees.”
Reportedly, several FEMA centers in New Jersey and Staten Island were also closed to due to the inclement weather anticipated from yesterday’s nor’easter.
Yesterday, NJ Gov. Chris Christie expressed confidence in his ability to “re-evaluate” the gas rationing system put in place about a week ago after residents were having to wait 3 to 4 hours for gas.
Today, Christie tried to salvage FEMA’s reputation and deflect negative criticism by praising utility crews and labeling the storm as the main perpetrator of all the suffering: “The villain in this case is Hurricane Sandy.”
Also today, FEMA announced that it would grant Governor Christie’s request to provide Disaster unemployment assistance to those unable to work “as a direct result of the damages caused by the storm.”