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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I rise today for the people of New Jersey whose lives have been turned upside down by Superstorm Sandy. I rise for families and small businesses still trying to recover, for homeowners in Little Ferry, shopkeepers in Moonachie, and for every family who lost property, possessions, and homes in Union Beach and Seaside Heights, and all along the Jersey shore.

I rise, for example, for this resident in Pleasantville who, you can see from this photograph, pretty much lost everything. This is the side of his house, totally ripped out. It looks like a dollhouse. But he was optimistic and hopeful for the future despite his challenges. This Sandy relief package is for him. By the way, he is a veteran.

I rise today for the 40 New Jerseyans who lost their lives in this powerful, devastating, and destructive storm.

As we come to the floor in the face of that tragic loss of life, I know all of my colleagues join me in offering our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of the victims of Superstorm Sandy. I hope all of my colleagues will join me in casting a vote that tells those families they are not alone, that we are all in this together; a vote that says we are ready as a Nation to help families and businesses and communities recover when there is disaster.

I join with Senators Lautenberg, Gillibrand, and Schumer, and every Senator from the affected States, to thank the President for the request of $60 billion in aid to help our States begin the rebuilding process. This package is certainly a very good start.

The damage we saw after Hurricane or Superstorm Sandy is difficult to describe, in part because this was not only a powerful storm but it was an incredibly massive storm. We felt the greatest impact in New Jersey and New York, but as you can see from this NASA photo, the storm obscures almost all of the Northeast in this satellite photo.

The numbers are staggering across the region. We lost 40 people in the storm. Based on preliminary estimates, over 300,000 homes in New Jersey were severely damaged, over 20,000 homes were absolutely destroyed or made uninhabitable. But we fear the numbers will be even much higher as reporting continues. The preliminary damage estimate provided by the State of New Jersey is now up to $36.9 billion in damage, and everyone expects that number will rise.

These are numbers. They may be a way to quantify the damage, but they fail to paint a picture of what we have seen throughout the State: the level of destruction, the faces of many thousands of displaced people who find themselves homeless and basically nothing left from their homes--their possessions, their keepsakes, their memories, all gone. Entire neighborhoods, where several generations of families lived in close-knit communities, gone, thousands of decades-old small businesses ruined, their owners unsure if they will have the ability or the means to rebuild. We are getting more damage numbers, but the human toll is truly incalculable.

The sheer scope of the damage is also difficult to fathom, but to get a better sense of that, we have compiled some pictures that I hope to show our colleagues. Let me thank the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, for helping me compile these images from their photo gallery to tell the story of the devastation Sandy caused to our great State.

This is the Mantoloking Bridge which crossed Barnegat Bay and connected Brick with Mantoloking before the storm, and here it is after the storm. As you can see in this picture, the storm surge ripped a gash right through Mantoloking. These homes were largely all destroyed. As a matter of fact, the nature of the New Jersey coastline has now changed and there are inlets where there were none before, and it has totally rewritten the geography of the New Jersey shoreline.

The relief package we are debating today will help us repair, yes, this bridge, as well as some of the surrounding homes that were clearly lost and part of the highway that will need to be rebuilt, and it will help us defend this community from the fear of this happening again, of part of the community totally being ripped out.

While much of the damage was on the Jersey shore, northern New Jersey communities such as Little Ferry, as seen on this photo, and Moonachie saw extensive river flooding when a berm failed. I was actually by this location and saw FEMA emergency management teams, as well as local police and firefighters, getting people out of their homes in rafts in order to be able to get to dry land. Private property damage to both towns has been estimated to exceed $15 million. This bill will help these people rebuild and provide the State the resources it needs to build the berm back stronger.

In Sayerville, this is the third time in 3 years they have experienced severe flooding. In this picture, Mei Zhu surveys the damage inside her home. And that look of absolute fear and terror of what is before them is a look I have seen far too many times on the faces of New Jerseyans.

The foundations of some homes were ripped away, causing fear of physical collapse. Other homes were condemned and residents were told to leave. According to construction officials, in this borough alone a list of 39 homes with collapsed foundations and 246 other homes were severely damaged.

After these repeated floods, many are now asking for their homes to be bought out, but an additional $55 million is needed to allow these residents to move on. This bill has the resources needed to allow the State to fund these buyouts and allow Sayerville to deal with its new realities.

Here now are two pictures of Union Beach, NJ, a working-class town that could not afford the local $30 million to $40 million match for an Army Corps beach engineering project.

In this photo, you can see the storm devastated entire neighborhoods. Rebuilding defenses only to the standard that existed before the storm will give us more of the same in the next storm. If we don't do things differently, we shouldn't expect a different result.

In this next photo, you can see houses that were crushed by the storm's surge. Yes, we can help these homeowners rebuild, but if we don't rebuild smarter, better, and with stronger coastal protections, we will be back here again after the next storm paying the same price both in terms of human suffering and Federal funds.

I appreciate that colleagues came to see the devastation, the many administration officials, and the Vice President. We saw the difference between an Army Corps-engineered beach and one that is not. Where there was an Army Corps-engineered beach, you had very little destruction. Where you did not, you had massive destruction. The storm proves what the Army Corps of Engineers, academic studies, and local communities have been telling us for years: Beach engineering works. It protects lives, it protects property, and it saves us money in the long run from repetitive loss.

This next image is what you can see by helicopter all up and down the Jersey shore. This is one part, Ortley Beach, where many homes were destroyed and totally encased in sand. Many communities going back blocks and blocks off the beach will be found in very similar sets of circumstances.

Just to give you a sense of the magnitude, this is one community. Multiply that by a whole host of communities along the Jersey shore going back literally blocks and blocks of this picture.

In a different context, hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans have had their commutes disrupted because of the storm. Every single New Jersey Transit rail line was affected. Most service has been restored, but even today the Port Authority's PATH terminal at Hoboken, which brings thousands of riders back and forth between New York and New Jersey and the major financial markets of this Nation, is inoperable and it still won't be back on line for some time, affecting the commutes, the lives, and pocketbooks of 30,000 passengers who use that station every weekday. This closure has hurt many local small businesses and is forcing some workers to take a 6:30 a.m. bus every morning instead of an 8 a.m. train. Others are taking ferries, of course far more costly than their PATH ride, meaning that their personal budgets are hit dramatically each and every week that they are going to work. Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $7 billion in damage to transit systems across the region, disrupting not only people's commutes but taking time from them to spend with their families and money out of their pockets.

Here is a picture from a security camera showing the rushing corrosive seawater into the station of Hoboken, NJ. The saltwater has been pumped out and the silt that had accumulated has been dug out, but electrical equipment will need to be replaced and rebuilt before we see the tens of thousands of riders who rely on this station traveling again.

Other than the destruction wrought by the storm surge itself, arguably the biggest impact of the storm was the loss of power. At the outage peak, approximately two-thirds of the entire State was without power. Ten days after the storm, 10 percent of the State was still without power. Without power, these customers did not have heat, despite temperatures in the low 40s. Of the 40 New Jersey deaths, about half were directly related to the loss of power, including oxygen machines shutting off, people falling in the dark, carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, and hypothermia. Fully restoring power was a Herculean task, requiring utility crews from as far away as Oklahoma and Quebec to help local line workers.

At this moment our defenses are so low. It is like your immune system; when your immune system is depleted and at its lowest, you are most susceptible to getting ill. Up and down the New Jersey shoreline, we are totally defenseless. All we need is a northeaster--God forbid--and we will be in critical shape, unless we get this money to rebuild.

The Jersey shore was the epicenter of the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy, as the storm made landfall near Atlantic City. From Sandy Hook to Cape May, tens of millions of people visit the shore every year. It generates $38 billion in revenue to thousands of businesses annually. Here you can see the tremendous damage at the iconic Casino Pier at Seaside Heights. This photo shows more than just a mangled roller coaster; it symbolizes the destruction of an entire community--the small businesses that rely on this and other attractions and fuel this shore community.

New Jersey small businesses have suffered a combined $8.3 billion in damages, according to preliminary analyses. Here in Seaside Heights, many shore businesses were devastated. Here in Bay Head, a salon has its flood-damaged furniture piled out front awaiting removal. When we went to Long Beach Island with about four of our Senate colleagues, they saw block after block of businesses totally closed. This isn't about seasonal businesses. These are businesses that actually would be open but for Superstorm Sandy.

Here is a business owner cleaning up after flooding at Elsy Auto Repair in Newark. It gives you a sense of the breadth and scope of the shore, Newark and all types of communities affected.

I wanted to walk through these photos to give my colleagues and fellow Americans a sense of the damage we have seen throughout my home State. But what I have shown you still does not do justice to the full impact of the storm or the devastation people went through.

Every part of New Jersey was affected by the storm and we need your help to recover.

Unfortunately, there are those voices saying the cost to help families rebuild and recover is too much, that it should be reduced; that in this emergency, unlike many other similar emergencies in the past, we should do something smaller and wait to do the rest later.

Those who make such arguments could not, respectfully, be more wrong. We cannot rebuild half a PATH station, a little now and more sometime in the future; we cannot permanently repair half the Mantoloking Bridge; half a bridge is not a bridge at all. We cannot hire a contractor to rebuild half a house or restore half of a community. We need the money in place to rebuild entire projects and entire areas to ensure that families and businesses devastated by the storm can recover.

Right now there are tens of thousands of small business owners trying to decide--their life is on hold--whether I will have some assistance by the government that will help me reopen or I will pack it in. They need to see a full Federal commitment right now to know they have the resources and the customers they need to make it. Half a loaf or a wait-and-see commitment is simply not good enough.

I do not want our small businesses to pack and move on. I do not want multigenerational businesses to end because of a superstorm. I know Governor Christie doesn't want them to move on either. We want them to recover and stay in New Jersey. Disaster reimbursement from FEMA and agencies such as the Department of Transportation only flows when a project is completed. That makes the spending seem slow but actually the rebuilding happens much more quickly. Local communities are able to budget and contract for a project, knowing the money will be there at the end. If we wait, if we do not put up the money, then some of the rebuilding will also wait and a piecemeal recovery is a stalled recovery and, in all likelihood, a failed recovery.

The need is clear for passage of the Sandy relief package for my State and for the entire region devastated by the storm and the ruin it left in its wake. We have just gone through an election at the heart of which we debated the role of government in our lives. I submit we need to focus on what government does to help build the spirit of community we have seen in action in the aftermath of this devastating storm. Americans across the country were riveted by the stories of the immediate aftermath of the storm: the pictures of entire communities underwater, homes moved blocks down the road, homes and train cars blocking Federal highways, hospitals closed, gas lines miles long, people waiting hours for fuel to run generators to keep their homes heated and families warm, weeks of fuel rationing and no transit or Amtrak service for the entire region for people to get to work or visit their families.

Without a doubt, these were trying times for New Jersey. But now, just because those scenes are no longer showing in living rooms across the country, does not mean the pain is not there. It does not mean the recovery is over. Thousands of families are still displaced from their homes and will be for months to come.

We face this at the beginning of a winter. Many of these superstorms and hurricanes come in tropical times. We are in the midst of winter. The bite is even worse. Transit lines are still out. Community infrastructure still has to be rebuilt. Now is not the time for the Federal Government to walk away. It is more crucial now than ever for the Federal Government to help devastated communities rebuild, to help families get the assistance they need to repair their homes and put their lives back together. I, for one, will not rest until the rebuilding is done.

Whether in the Senate or before in my role in the House of Representatives, I have never said no to disaster funding--whether that was a result of Hurricane Katrina, for the people of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi; whether there was flooding along the Mississippi; in another context, whether it was tornado disasters in the Midwest; whether it was crop destruction for our farm States, I have not said no because I believe that is the essence of why we call this country the United States of America.

The only difference is the location and extent of the destruction. Now it is time for my fellow Americans to stand with New Jersey. We have been battered, but we are not broken. We are stronger and more united in our efforts to work to recover, rebuild, and recommit ourselves to uniting around common concerns and shared values rather than being divided by our differences. This is the lesson we learn and together we will rebuild and the Garden State will bloom once again.

I look forward to my colleagues supporting us in this effort as I have supported our fellow Americans, their people in their State and their challenges. This is one in which we need them to join hand in hand with us and to remember that but for the grace of God there go I.

This will happen someplace, sometime in another part of the Nation, and I will be proud at that time to once again say, yes; this is the United States of America.


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