HHS, Army Corps and other agencies weigh in on Sandy

Passengers exit a train in New York's Times Square station. The Army Corps of Engineers removed water in several stations, allowing some public transit to resume. Passengers exit a train in New York's Times Square station. The Army Corps of Engineers removed water in several stations, allowing some public transit to resume. Richard Drew/AP

The array of federal agencies contributing to the response to Superstorm Sandy continues to expand, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday declared a public health emergency for New York City and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived with pumps and other unwatering equipment to clear the flooded subway system.

As the death toll from the storm topped 145 and millions remain without power, HHS made the health declaration to ensure that services reach beneficiaries of Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Under a state-requested waiver, temporary health care facilities can set up operations with assurance of reimbursement for their expenses, according to an HHS release.

Some 500 HHS employees have been deployed to New York, New Jersey and other states hit by Sandy, and disaster medical assistance teams of medical professionals have been sent in from Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and Tennessee.

New York’s 108-year-old subway resumed partial operations Thursday after the Corps of Engineers, with 400 employees responding to Sandy in 25 mission assignments, delivered pumps and temporary emergency power equipment. The storm flooded subway tunnels and damaged electrical systems.

The Army Corps also is providing 80 truckloads of water to West Virginia, where Sandy caused a snowstorm, according to a news release. And other Corps response teams are on alert for such tasks as debris management, commodities distribution, infrastructure assessment, temporary roofing, restoration of critical public facilities, water planning and temporary housing.

President Obama flew to New Jersey on Wednesday to tour shore damage with Republican Gov. Chris Christie and visited the National Response Coordination Center at the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency with several members of his Cabinet and national security team.

FEMA mobilized a power restoration working group of representatives of private utilities and the Defense, Transportation and Energy departments and local law enforcement, as well as the Army Corps. Its mission is to “cut through the red tape, increase federal, state, tribal, local and private sector coordination and restore power to people as quickly as possible.”

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was set to travel to Connecticut and New York to meet with state and local officials in response to the hurricane.

The Pentagon, according to a FEMA roundup, is providing lifesaving assets to FEMA and to governors on request. The Navy has deployed three helicopter carrier ships to the coast off New York and New Jersey to help rescue operations. U.S. Northern Command regional defense coordinating officers are on the ground.

The National Guard currently has more than 11,800 troops on duty supporting the governors of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. They’re tasked with helping at evacuation shelters, clearing transportation routes, search and rescue, and delivering essential equipment and supplies.

The Transportation Department has made $17 million in quick-release emergency relief funds immediately available to New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island to begin repairing the damage to roads, bridges and tunnels.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ensured that inspectors independently verified that plant operators made the proper preparations and actions to ensure plant safety before, during and after the storm.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is tracking remnants of Sandy, providing regular forecast updates, taking aerial photographs and starting waterway surveys.

The Housing and Urban Development Department is coordinating with FEMA and states to identify providers, including public housing agencies and multifamily owners, that may have available housing units.

The Agriculture Department’s regional Food and Nutrition Service is working with state commissioners and program administrators in the affected areas to meet the needs of emergency shelters and feeding sites and to assist with Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program requests.

Interior Department bureaus are mobilizing more than 300 employees as part of its incident management teams to assess natural resource and infrastructure damage at national parks, wildlife refuges and Indian reservations. The National Parks Service has contributed 44 boats and crews for search and rescue.

The U.S. Postal Service has procedures in place to expedite recovery efforts, including making sure there is timely delivery of mailed ballots for next Tuesday’s elections.

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