By Kerry Burke and Bill Hutchinson New York Daily News
A widowed mother of two hero firefighters killed on 9/11 says she has been left heartbroken again — this time by politicians balking at approving Hurricane Sandy funds to rebuild her flood-damaged home.
Maureen Haskell, 68, of Seaford, L.I., was thrust into the spotlight Friday when Rep. Peter King (R.-L.I.) pleaded with fellow members of Congress to approve a funding package aimed at helping storm-ravaged victims like Haskell.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful. It breaks my heart,” Haskell said of the 67 Republicans who voted no Friday on a $9.7 billion first-phase funding package for Sandy victims.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unexpectedly tabled the funding vote earlier last week due to a dispute with other House Republicans, angering local politicians, including King. “Everybody plays by the rules… except for tonight, when the rug is pulled out from under us,” King said on the House floor after Boehner tabled the vote on the funding package.
The measure was eventually passed by the House Friday with a vote of 354-67.
Boehner has promised to put a larger $60.4 billion Sandy aid package up for a vote on Jan. 15. But the political hijinks has left storm victims like Haskell bitter and worried they might get left in a lurch by Washington.
“There are people living in tents on Staten Island in 25-degree weather. This is not a third-world country,” Haskell told The News.
Compounding Haskell’s anger is the fact that she has paid years of premiums on her flood insurance and has yet to be given an answer about her claim.
Money from the passage of Friday’s funding package will go strictly to the ailing federal flood insurance program to pay the legitimate claims of Sandy victims.
“I haven’t heard a word. I’ve had no contact with the flood adjuster,” said Haskell. “We need to rebuild. … It has been really frustrating. I have no place of my own to live. I have no money.”
Haskell, a mother of five children, has had enough tragedy in her life. Her sons, FDNY firefigthers Tommy and Timmy Haskell, were killed while helping to evacuate the World Trade Center in 2001. Her husband, who was also a firefighter, died two decades ago, and she has survived two bouts with breast cancer.
Her house was first damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011 — and it took her months to get it back in shape.
“How do I know I’m going to have enough to rebuild, I’m getting very nervous,” she said. “We paid our premiums for years. Why? I don’t know what’s wrong with these politicians.”
She said she was at her waterfront home when Hurricane Sandy hit Oct. 29 and that neighbors helped her flee the rising floodwaters.
“Water is the most powerful force in nature. I was scared. It sounded like a freight train underneath my house,” Haskell said.
Now Haskell fears her house has been structurally compromised. “It has to be torn down and rebuilt,” she said.
A retired Queens court clerk, Haskell said she and her son, Kevin [sic], 42, have been living with her daughter. The belongings she could salvage from her home have been packed into a storage locker.
“Thank God I have my daughter,” Haskell said.
King didn’t mention Haskell by name in his impassioned speech to his congressional colleagues, but described a Long Island mother of two sons who died in 9/11 as being among those New Yorkers hurting the most.
“I speak for every victim of Sandy,” Haskell said. “Where’s the money?”
Both Haskell and King questioned why government aid for Gulf of Mexico victims of Hurricane Katrina received funds to rebuild far faster than Hurricane Sandy victims.
Adding insult to injury was the no vote cast Friday by Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Republican from Biloxi, Miss., whose constituents received quick funds after Katrina.
“This is a bigger catastrophe than Katrina,” Haskell fumed. “Why are people being treated this way? The big officials have turned their backs on all these people. There’s no excuse for it.”
She said the only good news she has received lately is that a bench dedicated to the memory of her hero sons on the boardwalk in Long Island was spared by the hurricane.
“I’ve gotten past feeling cursed but this one really knocked me down,” she said. “I’m not crying as much as I used to. I try to be a strong person. God only gives you what you can handle — but I’ve told God a few times now I’ve reached my limit.