As efforts get underway to repair the damage wrought by Tropical Storm Irene, state and federal officials toured hard-hit areas on Monday and promised a unified front going forward.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, flanked by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and numerous U.S. senators and representatives, toured Cosey Beach of East Haven Monday morning before heading to Hartford. In a press conference there, Napolitano pledged federal support to individuals and businesses in Connecticut facing Irene-related expenses, and Malloy announced that Law School professor Daniel Esty ’86 — appointed this Spring to lead the state’s new department of energy and environmental protection — will be part of a group tasked with reviewing the state’s response to the disaster.
Calling Malloy her new “phone pal,” Napolitano applauded the Connecticut delegation for its work in securing federal support for Connecticut’s recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Napolitano said, will be opening a central command center for Connecticut in Hartford, as well as an office in each of the state’s eight counties, to ensure that those who need funding can access it.
“The national media may have left and moved onto something else, the storm may be over, but the damages are here, and we want to recover and rebuild,” Napolitano said. “During this recovery phase, we will be here. FEMA will be here.”
Napolitano’s visit comes at a time where lingering damages are still present event around Yale campus. Power was available to Lynwood Street starting just Monday.
Officials spent much of the press conference exchanging thanks and vowing continued cooperation between the federal and state governments as the recovery moves forward. U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 contrasted the federal government’s response to Irene with its much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2004. He said that after Katrina, one New Orleans resident told him the acronym for FEMA had become a “four-letter word” to residents of the bayou.
Perceptions of the FEMA have changed since then, it seems, at least among Connecticut public officials.
“We love FEMA,” Lieberman said. “That’s another four letter word — we love FEMA.”
How long FEMA will stay in Connecticut, though, remains unclear. Napolitano said surveyors are still out in Connecticut assessing the damage, but Malloy’s current estimates put damage at $15 million to state and municipal governments. In large part, Napolitano said, the federal government will be able to provide funds to repair uninsured investments — homes with previous disaster insurance will not receive federal funding. That’s not to say that the federal funding will provide the same full coverage an insurance policy would; Napolitano emphasized that these monies are not to be a “substitute” for insurance, but that the funds will be “enough to get started” with recovery.
And while Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 said he expected to face political battles to secure funding for Connecticut residents, he maintained that residents have a right to these funds and that “artificial obstacles” should not stand in their way.
Napolitano encouraged those who wish to obtain federal funding to apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov or to call 1-800-621-FEMA.
As of press time only six residences in New Haven are still without power, according to United Illuminating.