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Schumer, Gillibrand, Higgins, Hinchey, Massa, Murphy, Tonko, Lee Urge FEMA And White House To Issue Disaster Declaration For Counties Devastated By Severe Flooding

Aug 14, 2009
Press Release

Following severe summer storms that have wreaked havoc on the lives, homes, and businesses of residents throughout at least 10 New York counties, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representatives Brian Higgins, Maurice Hinchey, Eric Massa, Scott Murphy, Paul Tonko and Chris Lee today wrote to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the White House urging them to issue a disaster declaration. The counties include Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chenango, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Erie, Genesee, Rensselaer and Sullivan. Federal aid is needed to help the affected communities recover from the devastating flooding.

“Since late July, communities across New York State have been pounded by one devastating storm after another,” said Schumer. “We must do everything we can to provide these communities with the resources they need to recover from the widespread damages. I urge FEMA and the President to work with New York State and issue a federal disaster declaration for these counties to help these communities get back on their feet.”

“Nothing is more important than the safety of New York families,” Senator Gillibrand said. “We need this federal assistance to bring relief to the families and businesses hit by these storms. I will continue working with Senator Schumer and all the local officials to make sure we’re bringing help to those in need.”

"The devastation I witnessed this week in impacted neighborhoods was unimaginable," said Congressman Higgins. "People's lives will be forever changed. We are working to do everything we can to see that support is provided to individuals as well as municipalities in an effort to expedite the clean-up and rebuilding process."

"Upstate New York is once again facing severe flood damage and the federal government must do all that it can to assist our local municipalities and residents during this time of need," said Hinchey. "I urge President Obama and Administrator Fugate to immediately approve Governor Paterson's disaster request so that federal aid can begin flowing into our state and our communities can begin the recovery process with all the necessary resources at their disposal."

"I fully support the request for Federal Disaster Aid in the flood damaged areas of New York,” said Congressman Massa.  “Having personally inspected the devastation in Cattaraugus County, I know that we must continue working together to help the affected families of New York rebuild their lives. I will continue working with the New York delegation to help deliver this badly needed assistance."

"Federal assistance is critical as our local communities recover from recent devastating floods,” said Congressman Chris Murphy.  “Local governments, communities and families are struggling enough as it is during these tough economic times, and the added hardship of recovering from flooding is simply too much of a burden to ask them to bear alone. We must ensure the safety and well-being of the residents of these communities as they weather this storm."

“We need to provide our communities with the resources they need to help them recover from this summer's devastating floods,” said Congressman Tonko.  “That's why I am joining with Governor Paterson and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand in asking federal officials for a disaster declaration so New Yorkers can get back on their feet. “
“While our counties have been working with the state to facilitate a coordinated response to this major flooding, federal assistance is needed to ensure families and businesses can make a full recovery,” said Congressman Lee.  “I hope Washington will respond in short order to this important bipartisan request.”

Severe summer storms have led to widespread destruction and property damage throughout New York State since July 29th.  On August 10th, heavy thunderstorms and severe flooding added to the damage, overturning foundations of homes and businesses, crippling water and wastewater systems, and rendering main thoroughfares impassable. Flooding hit the Village of Gowanda in Erie County particularly hard, leading to the tragic loss of 2 lives in the small community.

The State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) in coordination with FEMA is taking inventory of the regional destruction and determining if damages reach the financial threshold required for a Presidential disaster declaration.  Following a federal designation, FEMA may authorize aid through the Individual Assistance and Public Assistance programs. 

In an effort to secure the necessary resources for the affected counties, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Representatives Higgins, Hinchey, Massa, Murphy, Tonko and Lee wrote to President Obama and FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate urging them to support New York State’s request for a federal major disaster declaration for several New York counties.

In the letter, the Senators and Representatives wrote, “As communities begin to address the widespread destruction and property loss left in the wake of these storms, we must ensure that every possible resource is made available to those teams and communities working to recover.”

A full copy of the letter is below:

August 15, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20500

The Honorable W. Craig Fugate
Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Department of Homeland Security
500 C Street SW
Washington, DC  20472

Dear President Obama and Administrator Fugate:

We write today to urge expeditious approval of New York State's request for a federal disaster declaration for Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chenango, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Erie, Genesee, Rensselaer and Sullivan counties, following the severe flooding that has ravaged the state in recent weeks. This declaration makes communities in at least these 10 New York counties and their residents eligible for federal assistance.  Based on damage assessments conducted by state and federal emergency personnel, New York State Governor David A. Paterson has determined that the cost of recovery is beyond the capacity of the state and local governments.  Federal assistance is urgently needed to help these communities recuperate.

Since July 29th, severe summer storms have wreaked havoc on the lives, homes, and businesses of residents throughout New York. Just days ago, heavy thunderstorms and severe flooding caused widespread damage across New York: overturning foundations of homes and businesses, crippling water and wastewater systems, and rendering main thoroughfares impassable. Residents have been evacuated from their homes, and in Western New York, the Tri-County Memorial Hospital sustained extensive damages requiring Red Cross officials to set up a field hospital at a local athletic field in order to treat patients. Flooding has hit the Village of Gowanda in Erie County particularly hard, leading to the tragic loss of 2 lives in the small community.

Early damage estimates collected in several New York counties indicate that federal assistance will be necessary to aid in recovery efforts. Early Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) conducted thus far have found damage costs which already double the $24.8 million federal threshold for statewide costs to local and state governments. With the costs still climbing, many of the affected communities simply cannot bear the financial burden on their own. To date, several hundred homes have sustained major damages or have been completely destroyed. As increased damages are revealed each hour and communities begin to pick up the pieces from the storm’s wreckage, we strongly encourage the swift arrival of federal assistance for the affected counties.

We therefore support New York State’s request for a major disaster declaration to provide federal relief to both local governments and individual residents. As communities begin to address the widespread destruction and property loss left in the wake of these storms, we must ensure that every possible resource is made available to those teams and communities working to recover. Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and please do not hesitate to contact us if we may be of assistance.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
U.S. Representative Brian Higgins
U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey
U.S. Representative Eric Massa
U.S. Representative Scott Murphy
U.S. Representative Paul Tonko
U.S. Representative Chris Lee