Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was near tears when she told colleagues about a Staten Island family’s tragedy in Superstorm Sandy as she and other lawmakers appealed for federal aid. An assistance package could be introduced in Congress as early as tomorrow.
Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, haltingly recounted the experience of a mother whose two young children were swept from her arms in a flood as they left their home heading for safety with relatives in Brooklyn. Appearing at a Senate Environment and Public Works hearing, Gillibrand said the mom was caught in the 10-foot storm surge as she tried to rescue her children, ages 2 and 4. They were later found drowned.
“As we begin to rebuild, folks are looking to Washington for how can you help us,” Gillibrand said. “We must help these families begin to rebuild. The devastation is so severe. For New York families, lives have been lost and homes are destroyed. Businesses are in rubble.”
President Barack Obama may send Congress an aid package covering the the costs of Sandy, the largest Atlantic storm in recorded history, as early as tomorrow, or by the middle of next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today at a Washington news conference.
“This is something that is important, that we do as soon as we can,” Reid told reporters. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have a place to live.”
At a White House briefing today, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said, “This is very much on the president’s mind.”
Lawmakers from the region asked colleagues at today’s hearing to pass emergency spending legislation that would help citizens rebuild, and to adequately fund new construction and infrastructure projects to mitigate the damage of storms in the future. New York state is seeking $41 billion for repairs, Howard Glaser, the state’s operations director, said this week.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the committee, said climate change was making severe weather events more frequent.
She said she held the hearing to create a “historic record” of the storm in hopes it would help spur Congress to act to mitigate the risks of global warming.
“There is a new normal of new extremes and we have to be prepared for it,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat. “Climate change is real. We’ve tolerated the deniers for far too long. We have to face the fact the deniers are wrong.”
Senators from the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast showed before and after photographs to underscore damage wrought on homes and businesses, wildlife refuges, roads and bridges, and Atlantic shoreline beaches, an important economic engine in the region.
The toll would reach well into the billions of dollars as hundreds of thousands of buildings in the densely populated region were severely damaged by the storm.
At least 8 million homes and businesses lost power during the storm. More than 100 deaths are blamed on Sandy, which skirted the Atlantic Seaboard before turning west to make a direct hit on the coast from New Jersey to New England.
Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Congress should pass legislation to accelerate seven flood control projects in his state, which he estimated would cost $500 million to $1 billion.
The process for approving flood projects managed by the Corps of Engineers should be streamlined, and Schumer called for a comprehensive study to predict the risks of future severe weather events in the future.
Boxer said the Sandy showed what damage severe weather events can have.
“I think it’s a turning point in our approach to climate change,” Boxer said. “I hope it is.”
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