On Wednesday, President Barack Obama declared a disaster area in New York, allowing upstate communities reeling from the wrath of Tropical Storm Irene to receive federal emergency funds. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the damage to the state topped $1 billion.
Later in the day, New Jersey — where some of the worst flooding continues in the northern parts of the state — was also declared a disaster area.
On Thursday, Obama will visit Paterson to inspect the damage.
As New Jersey awaited help from the feds, local governments in New York counties from Westchester to Schoharie that were newly eligible for federal funds prepared to request money to rebuild. New York City may have been spared significant damages, but parts of Long Island and upstate New York — particularly in the nearly destroyed town of Prattsville — are reeling from about $1 billion in damages caused by the storm, reported Democrat and Chronicle. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said damage to New York’s farms may amount to $45 million.
Areas of Eastern Connecticut were also hit hard by Irene. Like New York, a great deal of the major flooding has subsided, though the damage remains — most pressingly in the form of power outages. About 300,000 Connecticut residents are still without electricity, reported the Courant. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy hopes to reduce that number to 100,000 by Saturday, but the total cost of turning the power back on could cost the state $75 million. On Monday, Malloy took an aerial survey of the state with federal officials, hoping to garner more assistance, reported the Bulletin.
While New York and Connecticut are shifting efforts toward rebuilding and getting the lights on, in some parts of Northern New Jersey, where the Passaic River crested Tuesday night, the focus is still on rescuing people from floods and dealing with thousands of residents living in evacuation shelters.
Seven people have been killed in New Jersey. Approximately 10,000 people in Bergen County have been evacuated and 2,000 in Passaic County, reported the Record. Damage to infrastructure across the state has made relief efforts difficult. Thirty-two roads remained closed, 300,000 people were still without power and 1,300 people are being housed in evacuation shelters as of Tuesday evening, reported CNN.
The most heavily flooded areas, which include Paterson, Wayne, Fair Lawn, Little Falls, Woodland Park and Pompton Lakes, were hit hard when the Passaic River — already high from recent heavy rain — overflowed to the highest point in a century on Tuesday, reported the Record.
Currently, the central focus of state officials is on Paterson, where 4,000 residents were evacuated on Tuesday. All bridges and exits into downtown Paterson are closed from Route 19 and Interstate 80, making it extremely difficult to leave the city by car.
On Tuesday, Christie cancelled a scheduled trip to Mississippi to tour his own state. After surveying the damage he called Irene “the worst of any of them I’ve seen,” reported the Star-Ledger. Christie then sent a letter to Obama asking for federal assistance, as Cuomo had done. Late Wednesday afternoon, the disaster declaration was signed for New Jersey, allowing residents of Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Somerset counties to apply for federal grants and loans to cover uninsured losses, reported the Record.
In order for FEMA to declare a state disaster area, the total cost of uninsured property losses must reach about $4.6 million, and there must $3.27 worth of damage per resident in each county, explained the Connecticut Post.
On Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate toured areas of New Jersey where flooding from Tropical Storm Irene continues to leave streets inaccessible, homes destroyed and thousands without power, reported the Record.
The problem is that FEMA only has $800 million left for disaster emergencies, and a major battle is occurring in D.C. between the Republican controlled House and Democrat controlled Senate over the funds. That could hamper the timeliness of federal action for future disasters, reported the Record.
House Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., want to cut federal funding elsewhere to cover the costs of the hurricane aid, a measure that could threaten projects to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by disasters .
But Fugate said the funding crisis will not affect FEMA’s ability to provide aid to areas hurting from Irene. “We’re going to do what we’re supposed to do,” said Fugate, who added that FEMA “will work with the White House on funds needed to recover from this and other disasters.”
As the flood waters slip back into the rivers in New Jersey, the problem of limited FEMA funds and the outcome of the Congressional conflict could mean that efforts to rebuild infrastructure will be delayed — not only in New Jersey, but in New York and Connecticut — for some time.