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Obama declares NYS 'major disaster,' freeing up federal funds

A taxi sits in flood water on Coney

A taxi sits in flood water on Coney Island after Hurricane Irene hit in New York. (Getty Images) Photo Credit: A taxi sits in flood water on Coney Island after Hurricane Irene hit, in New York. (Getty Images)

The Catskills and other parts of New York State devastated by Tropical Storm Irene could be getting a big infusion of much-needed cash as they struggle to recover.

President Barack Obama Wednesday officially declared the damage caused by the historic storm a “major disaster,” which will free up federal money to individuals, local governments and some nonprofits to pay for emergency repair work. The White House said Obama would get a first-hand look at the New York region’s damage when he visits flood-ravaged Paterson, N.J. on Sunday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo thanked Obama for quickly signing the order Wednesday, saying that he believes the damage caused by last weekend’s storm will be close to $1 billion.

“We need help on the economics,” Cuomo said Wednesday as he toured damage in the Catskills. “We’ll bring the energy, we’ll bring the commitment, we’ll bring the drive, we’ll bring the know-how … but these are communities that will need help — economic help — to restore themselves.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who traveled through New York and New Jersey to view the storm’s aftermath, told the crowd in the Catskills that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would help the area rebuild.

“We will be helping you with this recovery and bringing this community back to where it was before,” Napolitano said.

But Cuomo said that wasn’t enough.

“We’re not just gonna rebuild. We’re gonna rebuild back better than ever before,” he said.

Eighty percent of New Yorkers who had lost power had it restored as of last night, Cuomo said, and nearly all New York City homes have power restored, Con Edison said.

The storm destroyed 600 homes, damaged bridges and left commuter railroad tracks underwater, officials said. Metro-North’s Port Jervis line — which is still underwater in places — won’t be back in service for months, the MTA said, adding that the agency would try to get any money available from FEMA and insurance to pay for damages and lost revenue. 

Follow Marc Beja on Twitter: @marc_beja


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