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Gillibrand, Schumer Urge FEMA Be Ready to Approve Disaster Declaration


In a letter to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged the agency to stand ready to approve any New York State request for a Major Disaster Declaration after Tuesday’s wind storm swept through communities from top to bottom in New York.

The Senators said that heavy rain, snow, and extremely high winds led to dangerous conditions, including power outages for hundreds of thousands of families, downing trees, and leading to flooding, damaging key infrastructure across dozens of counties, and severe coastal erosion and flooding downstate and on Long Island, damaging homes and property.

If a disaster declaration is requested and declared, grant assistance would be made available to state and local governments, as well as certain non-profit organizations, to reimburse costs incurred for emergency work and the repair or replacement of damaged facilities. This funding is available on a cost-sharing basis; FEMA generally covers 75 percent of the eligible costs for permanent and emergency work.  After any severe storm, the first step in the declaration process is for the state to request a Preliminary Damage Assessment, during which FEMA representatives join state, local, and other officials to survey damage across storm-impacted counties to help determine whether the cost of the disaster meets the criteria for a federal disaster declaration. Schumer and Gillibrand urged FEMA to be prepared to support any requests for aid from New York State.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter appears below:

Dear Administrator Criswell:

We write in strong support of communities in New York as they begin the recovery process following one of the first major storms of 2024. We urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stand ready, if requested, to work with affected counties and New York State to respond to the impacts of this weather system and if the state requests it, to make assistance available through a disaster declaration as expeditiously as possible.

Even before the storm began on Tuesday, all of New York’s 62 counties were under one of the following National Weather Service (NWS) Watches, Warnings, or Advisories; High Wind Warning, High Wind Watch, Wind Advisory, Winter Weather Advisory, or Coastal Flood Advisory, while some waters of Lakes Erie and Ontario were under Gale Warnings, and coastal waters off of Long Island and New York City faced Storm Warnings. As the storm receded yesterday, most counties remained under weather watches and advisories, including Flood Warning, Coastal Flood Warning, Wind Advisory, Gale Warning, Hazardous Weather Outlook, Winter Weather Advisory, and Lake Effect Snow Warning. The storm brought wind gusts clocking in as high as 78 mph in the North Country, which is in the range for a Category 1 hurricane, and more than 60 mph in Queens and Long Island. These high winds downed trees and power lines, leaving over 140,000 New Yorkers without power on Wednesday morning, including 42,000 customers in Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Lewis Counties, over 18,000 in Erie County, 17,000 in Central New York Cayuga and Onondaga Counties, approximately 10,000 in the Southern Tier, and 24,000 on Long Island. The state saw school closures and delays, public transportation delays or suspensions, and travel advisories as the storm wound down this morning. Wind Advisories and Hazardous Weather Outlooks remain in effect for much of the state today with sustained winds of 15 to 40 mph and gusts up to 50 mph.

In addition to power outages, these intense winds combined with high rainfall and temperatures creeping into the mid- to upper-40s in most areas of the state threaten to bring flooding events. After this past weekend’s storm dumped up to a foot of snow on some Upstate areas, rain from this most recent storm could cause flooding in areas with saturated ground. New York City got nearly two inches of rain, which cancelled train service and flooded a Bronx highway. Many Hudson Valley roads were flooded, and one to two feet of flooding is expected near the Sound Shore and other coastal areas. The Saw Mill River and the Bronx River also flooded, causing road closures Wednesday morning, and additional flooding in Hudson Valley communities is possible, especially in areas near the Hudson River, Ramapo River, and other bodies of water. Long Island’s protective barrier dunes and beaches also saw major erosion, including over-washes on Fire Island, and flooding in Mastic Beach, Freeport, Massapequa, and throughout many other communities on Long Island’s South Shore. While communities are just beginning on the road to recovery, we must remain vigilant. Weather reports are already showing more snow and wind storms are expected this upcoming weekend that could hit communities just as they are starting to rebuild. As this storm has affected New Yorkers across much of the state, we urge FEMA to stand ready to participate in a Preliminary Damage Assessment with state and local officials, should the state request it.

We are grateful for the prompt attention that the federal government has historically given in responding to disasters impacting New York State. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to approve any forthcoming requests for FEMA assistance from New York State as affected communities begin their recovery from this storm.


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