WASHINGTON -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand choked up Thursday as she told a Senate panel about two young boys swept to their deaths by a flood surge during superstorm Sandy while making a case for federal help for the state's recovery efforts.

Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) became emotional as she told the story of Connor and Brandon Moore, who were with their mother as she was driving them from their powerless Staten Island home to safety in Brooklyn when she ran into a 10-foot flood surge on the road.

"Her vehicle stalled. She took her children out of the car . . . and they were taken from her arms," Gillibrand said. "The children were 2 years old and 4 years old, and the mother could do nothing about it because the storm was so strong."

Gillibrand's story was one of many told by 18 lawmakers from affected states on Capitol Hill to establish a record for future legislation and billions of dollars of new federal funding.

"We're making a permanent record of what happened, and you are the eyewitnesses," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chaired the hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Boxer called Sandy "one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit our nation." Sandy hit 12 states, led to more than 120 deaths, knocked out power to 8 million people and forced cancellation of more than 12,000 commercial flights, Boxer said, causing the "staggering" estimated cost of $70 billion in New York and New Jersey alone.

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Lawmaker after lawmaker urged fast action on the release of federal funds to help rebuild quickly and to put into place new infrastructure -- sea walls, rebuilt dunes, channels -- to deal with future storms.

New York has requested $32.8 billion in federal recovery aid and $9.1 billion in funds for future prevention.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) called for expedited funding for rebuilding, and longer-term investments in flood and storm protection measures, such as restored dunes in the Westhampton Beach area.

"We can either invest now or we will pay later," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Schumer repeated his call for seven Army Corps of Engineer projects and a comprehensive study of ways to protect against future storms.