09.06.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Disaster Recovery Efforts In Vermont

As Prepared For Delivery -- Senate Floor

Just 10 days ago, Vermont bore the full brunt of then-Tropical Storm Irene as it dumped more than six inches of rain across the state in just a few hours.  The narrow valleys of the Green Mountains – where towns, roads and rivers are historically intertwined – were particularly hard hit as gentle rivers and streams became rushing torrents of destruction.  Whole towns were cut off from the outside world for days.  Homes, businesses, water systems, and miles of roads were swept away.  And some Vermonters lost their lives in these devastating floods. 

Our state has withstood an unprecedented wave of flooding this year with two spring events previously declared as Major Disasters.  Vermonters have shouldered these great burdens and are meeting this new crisis with the same courage, cooperation, and resilience they have always shown.  I applaud the brave first responders; National Guard members from Vermont, Illinois, and Maine; power crews; road crews; and many others who have helped in the recovery and rebuilding process. 

But our small state is stretched to the limit right now, and we need both immediate and ongoing assistance in recovering from these enormous setbacks.  Winter is fast approaching, and we must move quickly to secure our homes and businesses and restore our roads, bridges, water systems, schools, and medical facilities.  With just weeks to accomplish so much, we need the full and immediate support of FEMA and many other federal agencies.

I appreciate President Obama’s swift approval of Governor Shumlin’s request to declare most of Vermont a federal disaster area.  But I am greatly concerned that FEMA may not have adequate resources to meet the immediate assistance needs of the Irene victims in Vermont and elsewhere.  FEMA has less than $600 million in its disaster account for the rest of Fiscal Year 2011, and OMB said today that FEMA needs at least $1.5 billion for recovery assistance in states affected by Hurricane Irene. 

We need to act quickly to find a solution to this pressing problem.  I do not think any of us wants to get into a situation where we underfund FEMA at this critical juncture, and then have FEMA run out of resources next spring – just as rebuilding efforts get going on the East Coast.   

Given the breadth and depth of Irene’s destruction, on top of the ongoing disasters already declared in all 50 states, I will continue working with the Democratic leader, the Republican leader, the Appropriations Committee, and all of my colleagues to ensure that FEMA has the resources it needs to help all of our citizens in their desperate time of need.

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