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Washington - Two Connecticut Democrats - Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Joe Courtney - made use of a Senate hearing Thursday to underscore the extent of the damage that Superstorm Sandy had caused in their home state.
"Although the national media coverage may give the impression that Connecticut's damage was more a footnote to the main story," said Blumenthal, comparing the havoc wrought by Sandy in his state to that in New Jersey and New York, "the destruction and damage in Connecticut was every bit as real and the pockets of destruction as pervasive as elsewhere."
Courtney said that the state "saw flooding and physical destruction that actually exceeded the hurricane from 1938, which the old-timers always said was the high water mark in terms of bad weather in Connecticut."
According to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the primary purpose of the hearing by her panel was to compile a permanent record of the storm, using representatives from affected states as "eyewitnesses."
Courtney used that opportunity to call particular attention to the physical and financial damage that Sandy caused in his district, and to make the case for increased federal aid to New London.
He noted that eastern Connecticut has experienced four events requiring Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance in the past two years: flooding in the spring of 2010, Tropical Storm Irene in summer 2011, Storm Alfred in winter 2011, and now Sandy. Courtney argued that in light of this "historic repetition of bad weather," FEMA should provide a reimbursement rate higher than the standard 75 percent.
"The fact is, these communities deserve that," he said. "The City of New London, which is a very distressed municipality, did everything they had to do in terms of protecting lives, but they are now working at a structural deficit that the expenditure triggered." He told the Senate committee that the city may be put in the position of having to lay off firemen and police.
Although the Environment and Public Works Committee does not have direct jurisdiction over supplemental funding for disaster relief, Boxer acknowledged the urgency of that issue. "I think you're making an important point," she told Courtney, adding that members of her committee were likely to "get very involved" in supplemental aid issues indirectly.
The issue of climate change came up frequently during the hearing, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speaking passionately about the matter.
"There is a new normal of new extremes," he said. "The (climate change) deniers are wrong, they are just plain dead wrong. … Sandy shows the price of not being attentive to these facts."
Blumenthal echoed these sentiments.
"Many of the lessons learned that we've heard here form a pattern that we need to invest now or pay later," Blumenthal said. "In Connecticut, disasters like Hurricane Sandy are quickly becoming the new normal."
"Our response now has to match its historic magnitude," he said. "We need to think big and act big."