Environment | National

Tribes making preparations as Hurricane Sandy hits East Coast

Tribes from Maine to South Carolina are making preparations as Hurricane Sandy threatens the East Coast.

At least six tribes in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York are in the direct path of the hurricane. And several more in Maine, New York and South Carolina will feel the effects of the storm.

The Shinnecock Nation in New York is likely to experience the worst. The tribe has already declared an emergency and ordered an evacuation of its reservation on Long Island.

“We are putting up notices and sending out emails and going door-to-door," said Tracy Pace of the tribe's emergency management team. "We have checked on special needs already."

"We are expecting a lot of rain, a lot of trees to down along with utility lines," Pace added. "About a thousand people are in the Shinnecock service area that could feel the effects of the storm."

The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) represents tribes that have experience with hurricanes and other natural disasters. The group has been coordinating with its members as Sandy approaches.

“The first time a tribe encounters a situation like this there is always lot of confusion. Once we know more about the storm we are going to match up experienced emergency management coordinators to follow the storm with those tribes,” said Harrell French, USET's senior project coordinator for emergency management.

Hurricane Sandy is expected to pack a bigger punch in the Northeast due to a snow storm in the region. The Oneida Nation is further inland in New York but is also making preparations.

“Our biggest fear is the snowfall and the high winds," Terry Winslow of the tribe's emergency management said. "Those things coupled together are going to give us widespread electrical outages.”

So far, the weather remains stable for the the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point and the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, up in Maine. The storm could cause water problems on their reservations.

"We are concerned about heavy rainfall and infiltration of lots of sea water. We have been organizing all weekend and getting information out to all of our people," said Vera Francis from the Penobscot Nation.

Further south, the Catawba Nation of South Carolina was on alert over the weekend. Sandy, however, appears to have spared the tribe.

“We got overcast skies and 15-20 mile per hour wind. That is all we got out of it. We were lucky," Assistant Chief Wayne George said.

USET has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist tribes. But under federal law, tribes must go through states for disaster assistance although FEMA recently provided funds directly to tribes in Montana.

So tribes are being encouraged to send their disaster declarations to FEMA, in addition to their state governors. “This will signify to the government that you are ‘ahead of the storm’ and preparing for response and recovery," Jake Heflin of the Tribal Emergency Management Association said on a conference call with USET members.

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