6:01am

Thu November 1, 2012
Politics and Government

Cuomo: Helicopter survey of Sandy damage "disturbing"

Governor Andrew Cuomo took a helicopter tour of areas devastated from Hurricane Sandy, along with New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.  The governor says the state faces significant challenges to rebuild, and will have to fundamentally rethink New York city’s infrastructure going forward.

Cuomo organized a helicopter tour of locations particularly hurt by Sandy including Breezy Point, where a massive fire destroyed  over 100 homes; Long Beach, Long Island, where the beach has eroded completely away and houses are flooded; and JFK airport, where planes have been grounded for days.

Afterward, Cuomo, who visited disaster sites when he was Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Bill Clinton, says he has never seen New York like this.

“It is very disturbing and sad and troubling to see the amount of damage done and the lives that have been disrupted,” said Cuomo, who said he found sights of devastation at Breezy Point, Long Beach and Fire Island “breathtaking.”

Schumer says he is confident that federal money and assistance from FEMA is coming.

“It’s one of the biggest disasters to have ever struck this state, and even this country,” said Schumer. “The federal response has to measure that scope.”

Metropolitan Transit Authority Chairman Joe Lhota says public transportation is slowly coming back to life -- some subway lines are open, buses are being ramped up to full service, and commuter lines Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road are opening on a limited basis.  

And he says workers are still trying to get the water out of numerous tunnels, with the help of the special federal unwatering team.

“We’re going switch by switch, signal by signal, power substation by power substation,” said Lhota who said the ultimate goal is to restore service “even better.”

Cuomo says the state and city will have to build back better, in anticipation of what he says is likely more coastal storm flooding in the future.  He says he will be convening meetings on how to do that shortly.  The governor, who has stated already that he believes extreme weather occurrences are here to stay, skirted the line on what has become a political controversy over global warming.

“People will debate whether or not there is climate change,” said Cuomo. “That’s a whole political debate that I don’t want to get into.”

Cuomo say he instead wants to discuss the “frequency of extreme weather situations,” which he says is “way up.”

But Schumer was not reluctant to jump right in.

“There are a group of people in Washington right now who just deny the truth,” said Schumer who says he believes there is a relationship between the frequent extreme storms “and what’s going on in the atmosphere.”

Schumer, along with Gillibrand, also delved deeper into the politics in Washington, where some Republican conservatives have proposed cutting FEMA and other government disaster aid programs.

“That’s the wrong set of priorities,”  Gillibrand said.

After the briefing, Cuomo was back in the helicopter for another tour of more devastated regions, including the Robert Moses State Park at Jones Beach, where the sand has now disappeared.

The governor has also written a letter to President Barack Obama, asking for the federal government to reimburse the state for 100 percent of response and recovery costs.  The total expense is expected to reach into the billions of dollars.

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