BY SAM BARRON AND JOHN GOLDEN
Businesses across Westchester County are tolling the physical damage and financial costs of office and store closings, lost work hours and darkened trading floors in the wake of Tropical Storm Sandy.
The storm left more than 202,000 businesses and homes in the county without power, according to Con Edison, and reportedly downed more than 3,000 electrical wires here. Downed live wires and flooding whipped up by winds of up to 100 miles per hour off Long Island Sound and the Hudson River reportedly left more than 800 roads closed across the county at the start of the recovery.
Westchester residents bore the brunt of property damage in the storm as uprooted trees crashed onto houses and parked cars and gusting winds ripped away roof shingles and house siding. Business districts that historically have sustained the most severe and costly flood damage in previous storm disasters – among them, Mamaroneck, Rye and Hartsdale – were largely spared the damage caused in the past by fast-rising rivers and creeks.
As the Business Journal went to press Thursday, county officials in White Plains expected the Federal Emergency Management Agency to add Westchester to the federal disaster area declared for New York state. President Obama’s initial declaration made federal funding available only to storm-battered residents and business owners on Long Island and in the five boroughs of New York City.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Oct. 31 called on President Obama and New York’s congressional delegation to allow the federal government to fully reimburse the clean-up and restoration costs for state and local governments in disaster-stricken counties. The governor’s request was made as New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties responded to “the continued impacts of multi-building fires, tunnel closures, power losses to hospitals and other critical infrastructure, destroyed homes and sheltered populations, all in the midst of historic flooding that has complicated emergency response operations exponentially,” Cuomo said in his letter to the White House.
FEMA’S designation of Westchester as a disaster area would make business owners eligible for federal aid that includes:
- Unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for self-employed persons who do not qualify for state benefits.
- Loans up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance.
- Loans up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, nonprofit organizations that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the disaster’s adverse economic impact. This loan in combination with a property loss loan cannot exceed a total of $2 million.
- Loans up to $500,000 for farmers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses, excluding one’s primary residence.
As Hurricane Sandy moved slowly up the Atlantic coast toward the metropolitan New York, the Business Council of Westchester, the county’s largest business membership and advocacy group, urged owners to be prepared.
John Ravitz, the Business Council’s executive vice president, said businesses were advised to review their continuity of operations plans. “We wanted to ensure that they would be able to move forward if a natural disaster did occur,” he said.
As the former CEO of the American Red Cross in Westchester, Ravitz knows well the importance of being prepared. “You have to keep updating your continuity of operations,” he said. “Make sure it doesn’t sit in a binder. It takes time and commitment to have a plan in place. If there is ever a natural disaster, employees and employers will have a sense of empowerment because they know what to do.”
While many businesses in the county remained without power through the week, some benefited from Hurricane Sandy’s savage disruption of business as usual.
The AMC movie theatre in Port Chester, a village where most residents were without power, was packed on Halloween night, usually one of the slowest nights of the year at the cinema box office. Restaurants that were able to open were deluged with customers.