Congress members call storms like Sandy ‘the new normal’

Washington — In the first congressional hearing on Hurricane Sandy Thursday, lawmakers from storm-hit states made appeals for billions of dollars in additional aid and said massive, destructive storms are “the new normal.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., testified at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that “the path towards enlightened protection and preparation” must include infrastructure improvements such as flood gate repairs in Stamford, steps to stop flooding along the Housatonic River, and the establishment of microgrids for electricity and increased use of generators, especially at facilities for the elderly.

Sandy's destruction

Some of Sandy’s destruction in Connecticut.

“The sweep and depth of destruction in human impact and financial affect was simply staggering,” Blumenthal said. “In Connecticut, disasters like Hurricane Sandy are quickly becoming the new normal.”

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., also said massive storms like Sandy are the “new normal,” and called lawmakers who reject the idea of climate change “deluded.”

Blumenthal said at least 3,000 homes in Connecticut were damaged by Sandy, a third of them uninhabitable.

While serious, the damage in Connecticut pales beside the destruction Sandy wrought in New Jersey and New York.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said more than 300,000 homes were seriously damaged from New York City to the eastern tip of Long Island alone.

Fellow New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat, cried when she testified about the loss of two young boys in the storm.

In all, 131 people were killed by Sandy, six in Connecticut. Sandy’s victims included an Easton firefighter slain in the line of duty by a falling tree.

Many lawmakers urged their colleagues to approve legislation that would give the Federal Emergency Management Agency authority to waive the share state and local governments must pay for reconstruction and repair of public buildings and roads.

“The 75-25 reimbursement that comes from FEMA, again given the fact that we’ve had a repetitive series of storms, is really starting to affect the abilities of these communities to maintain standard operations,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, another witness at the hearing.

He said the strain of responding to Sandy, and a series of other recent storms, has cost New London so much money it is considering laying off firefighters and police.

But facing tight budget restraints, lawmakers are not eager to approve additional emergency money in the lame duck session of Congress.