Senator Kirsten Gillibrand fought back tears Thursday as she discussed the aftermath of Sandy with her colleagues on Capitol Hill, as Congress held its first hearing on the impact of Hurricane Sandy and explored measures to prevent damage from future storms. Washington bureau reporter Erin Billups filed the following report for NY1.
It was the story of a Staten Island mother's loss that captivated lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday.
"A 10-foot wave came across the road," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "Her vehicle stalled. She took her children out of the car. She tried to get to higher land, and they were taken from her arms. These children were 2 years old and 4 years old, and the mother could do nothing about it because the storm was so strong."
About 20 Senators and House members recounted stories of loss and devastation resulting from Hurricane Sandy during the lawmakers' first hearing examining the storm.
"We cleaned up the surface rather quickly, but there are still much deeper and continuing challenges that remain," said Rep. Michael Grimm.
The focus of the hearing was the need for preventative measures, like building better flood infrastructure.
"The urgency of now is critical, because if we get a Nor'easter, based on what we've suffered after Superstorm Sandy, then the effects would be devastating for us," said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
Charles Schumer, New York's senior senator, called for an acceleration of funding for already approved Army Corps of Engineer projects to shore up the state's coastlines. He also hopes to get a provision authorizing a comprehensive study of the New York Harbor into the supplemental disaster aid bill currently being drafted.
"They did that in New Orleans, and then they built a series of levees and barriers and island dunes and sea walls," Schumer said.
Lawmakers repeatedly cited a "new normal" of massive storms that cause tremendous damage. Democrats say they hope Sandy will finally compel action on climate change legislation.
"The science is clear," said Rep. Eliot Engel. "Cutting carbon emission over the long term is key to reducing the risks from extreme weather."
Initial estimates of the storm damage for New York and New Jersey total more than $70 billion Lawmakers said they expect the supplemental bill from the White House sometime next week.