No television image or news report can prepare you for this.
Families without power—unable to shower or wash their clothes for days—huddled together in churches serving as “warming centers” to provide refuge from the stinging cold outside…
Mounds of displaced sand plowed two stories high in residential neighborhoods, so homeowners could finally get through their front door to survey the damage inside…
Mothers with shopping baskets, and dads holding plastic bags, sifting through donation boxes at makeshift relief centers to find food and clothing to keep their children nourished and warm….
Wine sellers, florists, glass etchers, caterers, printers and other merchants surveying the wreckage of their small businesses, navigating knee-high dirty water to strip off drywall before dangerous mold forms, spreads and creates a health risk….
I spent yesterday in Brooklyn and Queens because the federal government has a responsibility here. It’s not enough to just send our thoughts and prayers.
President Obama told every member of his cabinet to work quickly to deliver critical aid wherever it’s needed. That’s why I exercised my discretion and approved $27.8 million under our National Emergency Grant program to fund 1,400 temporary jobs for New Yorkers to assist with clean-up efforts in the five boroughs. We cut the red tape and approved the funding less than 24 hours after it was requested.
I also approved $15.6 million for cleanup crews in New Jersey and $1.5 million for Rhode Island. As additional requests for assistance come in to the Department of Labor, they will be handled immediately. We also are providing emergency disaster unemployment insurance to affected workers who may not normally qualify, such as part-time and new workers.
There has been enough suffering, so we’re communicating the safety precautions for clean-up workers to take as they rebuild. They should assume all power lines are live, and act with appropriate caution. And they should wear hard hats, shoes and reflective vests, and follow proper safety procedures when using ladders, cutting down trees and working near other hazards. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials are on the ground in all of the affected areas, providing training and educational materials so crews stay safe as they restore electricity, demolish structures, clear debris and repair infrastructure.
Even in the face of so much adversity, I also saw many scenes yesterday that left me inspired. I saw that rough-and-tumble New Yorker stereotype give way to countless demonstrations of kindness and sacrifice. I saw people more concerned about their neighbors than themselves. They were standing elbow to elbow in food lines. They knew there was a finite amount of food, but they waited patiently. No one pushed or jostled. In fact, I saw people at the front of the line passing sandwiches back to the people behind them.
As always, the faith community sprang into action: At Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Brooklyn, a priest who looked like he hadn’t slept in days delivered comfort to people of every race, religion and background. “I’m going to pray for your strength,” I heard him say. St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Queens welcomed Jewish congregants so they could hold Sabbath services Friday night after their temple had been damaged in the storm.
I saw FEMA crews working side by side with state and local officials. Instead of turf wars or acrimony, there was a clear sense of shared purpose. I saw businesses like Lowe’s on sight with hundreds of buckets to help with debris removal. Relief workers brought canned goods. Local grocers supplied fresh fruit and sandwiches. As I was leaving, I saw the Army Corps of Engineers bringing in generators to provide power and warmth.
I will never forget the people I met or the unlikely scenes of hope that transpired in the midst of so much hardship and loss. Long after the camera crews are gone, the rebuilding will continue. This government—and this department—will be there until the work is complete. In times like this, we are one.