Senators join call for relief funds
For the second day in a row, members of the state's Congressional delegation pressed federal emergency officials for more disaster aid to fund Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.
Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., also pushed the White House and Congress to make sure West Virginia gets its fair share of aid.
"Supplemental recovery funding is critical, and I hope that it will transcend the politics that have too often left this institution gridlocked," Rockefeller said.
President Barack Obama and Congressional officials have spent two days this week reviewing the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Sandy response.
On Wednesday, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., urged FEMA officials to speed up individual assistance for counties hit hardest by the storm during a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
FEMA administrator Craig Fugate told the committee his agency has about $4.8 billion left in its disaster relief fund to provide additional aid to areas affected by Sandy.
But that number pales in comparison to the nearly $83 billion in aid requests made by officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The White House and Congressional officials are working to provide more funds to FEMA, though, given the current debate over the so-called fiscal cliff, it's not clear how much money Congress will provide.
In separate testimony given to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Rockefeller and Manchin asked that the far-larger requests from other states not keep West Virginia from getting its fair share.
"While the nation's attention was understandably focused on New York and New Jersey, far from the glare of the national spotlight, West Virginia was buried in an avalanche of heavy, wet snow," Rockefeller said. "Roofs of homes and businesses collapsed. Roads were impassable. More than 200,000 people lost electricity and were left huddling in the dark and the cold."
Seven West Virginians also died in Sandy-related incidents.
Manchin and Rockefeller said the state's resources were pressed to the extreme.
"Our responders also were overwhelmed by dozens of roads that required debris removal, the need for reconnaissance flights to identify downed power lines and substations damaged by fallen trees, and by the urgent requirement to reach individuals across the state who were isolated and in need of such basics as food, water, medicines and shelter," Manchin said.
West Virginia has borne the brunt of several natural disasters this year, including major floods and tornadoes in the spring and the June 29 derecho.
In fact, the state has had more declared major disasters or emergencies than any other state in the past year.
"These disasters caused incalculable financial, emotional and physical harm to individuals and businesses throughout the state but especially impacted the southern coalfields and other mountainous areas where the natural landscape leaves the residents vulnerable to flooding, snow storms and other disasters," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller said West Virginians persevered through the storm, and he said Congress should honor that resolve by giving the state everything it needed to recover.
"West Virginians need support, as do so many others, which is why the Administration and Congress must make sure that a disaster relief package fully takes into account every impacted state's unique recovery needs," he said.
Manchin asked that the president's next budget include enough funds to help those affected by Sandy rebuild their homes and to get businesses and communities back to normal.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to submit a formal report detailing its disaster recovery funding needs to the White House Office of Management and Budget within the next week. State officials have yet to indicate how much they will seek in disaster funds.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.