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Public Statements

Sportsmen's Act of 2012 - Resumed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, I rise to celebrate the people of New Jersey, many of whom lost everything in Superstorm Sandy but who came through one of the most devastating storms in our State's history battered but not broken.

The storm struck New Jersey with extraordinary force. It was the entry point of Superstorm Sandy, and the surge came quickly, destroying whole
communities, taking homes from their foundations, changing the topography of the coastline, devastating some of the most densely populated communities in the country, taking lives and taking property, leaving New Jerseyans without power but not powerless, without the personal possessions accumulated over a lifetime but with their families and their memories intact. Their memories are the foundation upon which New Jerseyans are recovering and rebuilding their lives and their communities. They are rebuilding with the help of FEMA and other Federal agencies, including the American Red Cross and countless volunteers from around the country, State and local officials,working overtime to help. New Jersey will come back stronger and better, and we are more determined than ever to rebuild and restore our communities to where they were.

The people of New Jersey withstood the unbridled power of nature--the power of nature strengthened by manmade climate change--to create an unprecedented storm and unprecedented damage. I wish to share with my colleagues some of the photos showing the devastation and why New Jersey needs a strong Federal partner if we hope to rebuild.

As my colleagues can see, Sandy mixed all forms of transportation with a force we haven't seen in many years. This is a shipping container and a large pleasure boat tossed onto the Morgan rail bridge on the North Jersey coastline along with tons of debris. The photo shows the container from the shipping lines and the boat on a bridge that obviously was a rail bridge.

You can see, we have a lot of work to do with scenes like this up and down the coast.

In this photograph, you can see the kind of damage that our rail lines have suffered--heaved from the railroad beds and buckled. This again is along the north Jersey coastline, which had miles of track damaged just like this, as shown in this photograph, and in need of millions of dollars in repairs.

In fact, 40 percent of the Nation's transit riders from Washington to Boston had their service interrupted. Dozens and dozens of New Jersey Transit's locomotives and rail cars were damaged by flooding. So today I am proud to announce that we expedited $25 million in transportation funding to help ease that situation.

But some commuters into New York, for example, from my home State of New Jersey are still suffering 4-hour commutes, with rail service only about half of what it normally is, largely because there still is not enough power for all the trains.

In the meantime, New Jersey has added subsidized ferry service to make up the difference, with the Federal Department of Transportation providing over 300 buses to help serve those new ferry lines, including one out of Liberty State Park.

Here is another photograph of the extraordinary power of Sandy's surge that lifted boats on to a rail bridge along the north Jersey coastline. Amazingly, through the hard work of New Jersey Transit workers, this devastated rail line might be able to resume limited service by the end of this week.

But this line, like many other commuter lines in New Jersey, will need much more extensive work to get service levels back to normal and to make more permanent repairs to ensure long-term reliability.

But beyond the transportation damage, it is important to remember that some lost everything in the storm and some lost their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families who lost loved ones to Super Sandy.

I toured some of the worst hit areas with President Obama and Governor Christie and spoke to New Jerseyans who suffered extraordinary loss and were hit the hardest.

Some of these photos I am about to show now I took myself. They may not be the best photographs and I may not be the best photographer, but they show a small part of the overall destruction my State has suffered.

You can see in this photograph from the Coast Guard plane I was aboard some of the destruction at Sandy Hook, NJ. These homes are deeply under water, many of them rendered impossible to return to for a significant period of time. There are other homes I will show you where people cannot return to what was their home.

This is a photograph of the flooding in the Mantoloking area north of Seaside Heights that submerged cars and caused millions of dollars of damage and thousands to be displaced from their homes. This bridge actually collapsed at the end there, leaving this whole section in difficulty in terms of exit off the barrier islands.

I took the next two photographs while touring northern New Jersey. I have shown most of the pictures from the shore area, which took the hardest hit, because that was the entry point largely for Superstorm Sandy, but it was not just along the shore. Here is an example of the type of flooding that took place in Hoboken, NJ. On the night of the storm, this flooding was just beginning, and it only got worse, so much so that it took the National Guard to rescue residents from their homes, days--days--after the storm. It filled the streets with overflow from sewage plants. Gasoline was reeking in the air--a danger to the health and well-being of residents. And it made the damage even worse than anyone had imagined possible.

The next photograph I took is of Observer Highway. This is a major thoroughfare between two significant parts of the metropolitan area, between the city of Hoboken and the city of Jersey City, the second largest city in our State. I cannot remember ever seeing the area so expansively under water, and I hope to never see it again.

All of these cars were floating, some of them crashing into each other, rendered largely useless, and, of course, stopping a major thoroughfare for days in terms of anybody being able to get through.

And if the images do not give you a sense of the destruction and the loss families have suffered, then this next photograph encapsulates the power of the storm to take away all that people had worked for all of their lives. It is in the faces of the people I met.

Here in Pleasantville, NJ, which is right outside Atlantic City along a section there, the mayor of Pleasantville took me to meet a series of residents whose homes had been ripped apart.

In this picture, I am standing outside of the person's home, almost as if it were a dollhouse, looking in. I would love to have said that it was only this poor gentleman, but it was an entire community where homes had been ripped apart and you could see into their homes. It shows the nature of, the breadth and scope of, the devastation.

It is not that this gentleman lost a shingle, it is that he lost the whole side of his home, now exposed to the elements and, of course, everything ripped apart.

The other aspect about this picture, in addition to the incredible destruction, is the resiliency. When I went to share my sentiments and my concern with this gentleman, he asked me: How are you doing, Senator? I said: Well, sir, what is more important is, how are you doing? He said: I'm doing fine. I'm here, I'm alive, and I still have part of my home.

So sometimes when we think about how difficult our lives might be at any given moment, I think about this gentleman and the extraordinary resiliency he has had in the midst of probably one of the most difficult times in his life. And there are so many other New Jerseyans whom I met like that.

I met a young woman in Hoboken whose entire basement apartment was flooded--totally gone. She lost everything she had worked for in her young professional life. In the midst of that tragedy for her, she was at a shelter, running the shelter, helping everybody else who had been displaced--some not as badly as her, not thinking about her tomorrow, but thinking about her fellow citizens in Hoboken, NJ.

I met some poor families who were not badly affected by the storm who opened their homes and their kitchen tables to individuals who were their neighbors who were hurt very badly. And even though they did not have a lot to put around the kitchen table, they were sharing what they had.

I saw citizens risk their own lives to save their neighbors' lives in the rushing water and heard their accounts. So I saw the better angels of people in the midst of a storm.

The fact is, despite the damage and displacement, the human suffering and loss of property, possessions, personal photographs and family memories, the people of New Jersey held together.

Neighbors came together to help one another. As much as they were shaken and mourned their own loss, they worked together to help each other, to save each other, to begin the recovery, to get New Jersey back on its feet, and Federal, State, and local governments were there to help.

The Federal response was quick, and it was effective, but there is still so much more that we need to do, and still more that we can do to help those families who are still without shelter, still without a place to return to, to call home, and without a clear picture of what the future holds.

The storm was unprecedented in the breadth of its devastation. While our shoreline was hard hit, that does not begin to describe the full impact. Some of our Nation's most densely populated communities were also hit very hard, requiring one of the biggest rescue and recovery efforts we have seen. A response that size, obviously, takes time, but we acted quickly and will continue to do what needs to be done.

After surveying Sandy's damage with President Obama and Governor Christie on October 31, Senator Lautenberg and I called for increased support from the Federal Government to deal with the cost of response efforts.

In a letter to the President, we asked that the Federal share for disaster response be increased from the standard 75 percent to a much higher possibly 100 percent because of the devastating impact of what meteorologists have called a perfect storm.

The President initially issued a disaster declaration for eight New Jersey counties and, along with Senator Lautenberg, we requested additional counties be included, and they were.

Before walking with the President and the Governor through Brigantine, NJ, I had an opportunity to tour the destruction in Pleasantville, Hoboken, Jersey City, and communities in Bergen County. What I saw was unlike anything I had ever seen in my lifetime in those communities.

I am very grateful that the President came to New Jersey with the full force of the Federal Government to see and to respond firsthand to the devastation the hurricane left in its wake.

I have proudly lived in New Jersey all of my life, and seeing the Garden State in ruin is heartbreaking. The shore of my youth is gone. Much of it lies in the ocean for the ages. But it made me realize that, in times of tragedy, in times of storms like Sandy, we need government at all levels to come together, all of us rolling up our sleeves to help our neighbors recover and rebuild and reclaim their lives. We need to make certain that we secure all of the resources necessary to help New Jersey, and every community affected by this horrible storm, to rebuild and emerge stronger than before.

Since the storm, I have requested emergency funding for New Jersey's transportation network--highways, rail lines, ports, and airports--that was devastated by the storm.

I asked the President and Secretary LaHood for emergency funds to repair highways and bridges and to expedite assistance to all impacted modes of transportation.

I called on the President to dispatch emergency fuel and power supplies to New Jersey to ease the fuel shortage and to keep emergency vehicles running in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

To ensure critical infrastructure--water treatment and sanitation facilities--we received the help of the Army Corps of Engineers to have these facilities remain operable.

The Federal Government also responded with $10 million in emergency funding, with some of those critical transportation needs, freed up 2 million gallons of fuel from the Northeast Oil Reserve, and the EPA took action that rerouted this fuel to New Jersey when it needed it the most.

The Federal response also included a grant for New Jersey to hire 1,000 workers to help communities clean up from the storm.

But, despite all of that, many families in my State are still suffering. They have lost much, and many are displaced, some permanently, from their homes. That is why I have called for the immediate suspension of foreclosures and evictions for all New Jersey homeowners who faced financial difficulties before the storm and now are suffering additional difficulties in the wake of it; and for swift action to expand emergency mortgage payment relief to all New Jersey homeowners who have lost income as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

That is why we must work to give them certainty of what the Federal Government will do to help them rebuild their lives so they can make critical decisions as to their futures.

What I take away from this experience is the fact that we are all in this together, one community, each of us dependent on the other--each of us working to rebuild and recover for the benefit of all of us in New Jersey, but I believe all of us in the country.

That is what community is all about. It is the heart of our motto: E Pluribus Unum; From Many, One. We have just gone through an election at the heart of which we debated the role of government in our lives. I would submit we need to focus on what government does to rebuild the spirit of community that 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 communities under water, homes moved blocks down the road, homes and trains blocking Federal highways, hospitals closed, gas lines miles long, people waiting hours for fuel to run generators and keep their homes heated, 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, those have been trying times for New Jersey. But now, just because those scenes may no longer be showing in living rooms across the country does not mean that the recovery is over.

Thousands of families are still displaced from their homes and will be for months to come.

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, 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. This is one country, the United States of America. That is why, when there was destruction in New Orleans with Katrina, in Florida, in Joplin, or crop destruction in the Midwest, I came along with other colleagues to support those communities. I viewed it as my time to stand with my fellow Americans in distress.

Now it is time for my fellow Americans to stand with New Jersey. New Jersey has been battered, but we are not broken. We are stronger and more united in our efforts to work together to recover, rebuild, and recommit ourselves to uniting around our common concerns and shared values rather than divided by our differences. That is the lesson we learned. And together we will rebuild and the Garden State will bloom once again.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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