The Obama administration approved $1.83 billion to help New Jersey recover from the effects of Superstorm Sandy, which six months ago to the day pounded through the state and metropolitan New York City areas, bring flooding, destruction and death.
Half a year after the storm, the region has made major advances in cleaning up, but tens of thousands of people remain homeless and major chunks of the local economy, including tourism, remain a question mark as the summer vacation season is set to return.
“Today is the beginning of us getting to Phase 2 of return to normalcy,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday. “For the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans, their life is back to normal. For those who have not been able to leave it behind, I can still see the emotion on their faces, the sense of loss they still carry close to the surface. We are not here today to take a victory lap.”
In New York, top officials have made the same point: that while much has been done, more work remains.
“Some families and some lives have come back together quickly and well, and some people are up and running almost as if nothing ever happened, and for them it's been fine,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Thursday. “Some people are still very much in the midst of recovery. You still have people in hotel rooms, you still have people doubled up, you still have people fighting with insurance companies, and for them it's been terrible and horrendous.”
On Monday, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, the former New York City housing commissioner, formally announced the $1.83-billion grant, funded through the federal Community Development Block Grant program. It is the first round of such funds, but not the first federal money to be sent into the Sandy-devastated region. Congress has already approved more than $60 billion in reconstruction help, much of it for New Jersey and New York.
The federal appropriation came after a political battle, particularly in the GOP-controlled House, where some legislators complained about the size of the package in tough fiscal times and the uncertainty of how the money would be spent. The dispute also led to a rare intra-party spat as top Republican Rep. Peter King of Long Island publicly rebuked his party leaders and goaded them into passing the aid package.
The politics of the situation was also confounded when Republican Gov. Christie embraced President Obama who was visiting the state to help focus on aid efforts. The hug felt round the political world came as Obama was campaigning against GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Some Republican conservatives blamed it for hurting the GOP presidential campaign – which could have an impact on Christie’s own political future since he is widely regarded as a possible presidential aspirant in 2016.
Christie has repeatedly defended his hug, saying he has disagreed with Obama on numerous issues. But the governor said his responsibility was to do everything he could to help his state.
“The president has kept every promise he’s made,” Christie said, speaking on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.”
“I think he's done a good job. He kept his word.”
At a Monday news conference in Highlands, N.J., Christie again praised the federal government, saying it has been easy to work with Donovan on recovery issues.
“There's an old joke, right? Someone from the government comes into town and they say, 'I'm from Washington and I'm here to help' and everybody starts to laugh,” Christie said. “Shaun Donovan is ruining that joke for me.”
Donovan was equally gracious, according to video from the scene. He praised Christie “for his remarkable and relentless leadership in helping this town, this shore and this state recover from one of the toughest blows it has ever endured.”
Sandy was the most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic season and the second-costliest in U.S. history. It was so fierce that the name Sandy was retired from the official list of Atlantic storms kept by the World Meteorological Organization’s hurricane committee. Sandy is the 77th name to be retired from the list.
Sandy was a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall in Cuba in October. An estimated 285 people were killed along the path of the storm in seven countries. By the time it reached Brigantine, N.J., Sandy combined with two other cold-weather storm fronts to create what was quickly dubbed a superstorm. It caused damage in 24 states from Florida to Maine and from Michigan to the Atlantic Ocean region.
The National Hurricane Center says 72 deaths in the United States are directly attributed to Sandy and that 87 others are indirectly blamed on the storm. The indirect deaths are from a range of causes, including hypothermia when the power was out and accidents during the cleanup phase.
The Hurricane Center estimated Sandy's damage at $50 billion, second only to the $108 billion caused by Hurricane Katrina, which cut a deadly swath across the Gulf of Mexico in 2005.
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