With power restored to all but an estimated 2,325 Connecticut residents, federal and state officials promised to begin the hard work of cleaning up after Tropical Storm Irene.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured East Haven Monday morning where 20 homes were destroyed before returning to Hartford for a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center with the rest of the Congressional delegation and other state officials, including the chief executive officers of the two utility companies.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have fanned out across the state to help it assess damages, including damage to individual homes. State officials said about 1,400 homeowners and businesses have reported damages to the state by calling 2-1-1. Those calls and damage reports helped the state meet the threshold for individualized assistance from FEMA.
“Individual assessments are now continuing. These assessments are designed to give the governor a better picture of damages and determine if the request for further federal support is needed,” Napolitano said.
She urged homeowners and businesses to register their damages at www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA.
“We will continue to lean forward here in Connecticut. We are not leaving,” Napolitano said.
Napolitano hesitated to put a number on the damages, which are still being added up, but she did say in some areas damages were estimated at $15 million—in excess of the threshold to qualify for assistance.
But not everyone will qualify for FEMA assistance.
Residents who may have owned seasonal or vacation homes in shoreline areas are not eligible for federal assistance, Napolitano explained.
She said second homes do not qualify for federal assistance, but that’s why they ask people to contact them so an assessment of an individual situation can be made. She said FEMA also does not cover losses where there’s insurance.
“When we do a damage assessment, we’re not only looking for homes that have been damaged, but were they uninsured losses that are there,” Napolitano said. “We don’t pay the entire replacement value of the home. FEMA pays enough to get started, but it is not there to be a substitute for an insurance policy.”
Malloy said about 80 percent of the insurance companies writing homeowners insurance in Connecticut have agreed to waive their hurricane deductibles.
And Malloy promised that a review of the response to the storm, including the restoration of electricity by the state’s two major utilities will be reviewed.
“Once everyone’s power is back on I’ll be announcing a plan for a comprehensive review of the performance and the criteria involved in all of our operations, including the utilities, covered by this storm,” Malloy said.
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said that review will also include the performance of phone and cable companies. He said later this week they will sit down and figure out how to go about collecting data for the report.
Napolitano was the third federal official to visit Connecticut since the storm hit on Sunday. Earlier in the week Richard Serino, deputy administrator of FEMA, toured the state. William Bryan, deputy assistant secretary of infrastructure security and energy restoration for the U.S. Department of Energy also visited the state to assess the situation.
On Sunday President Obama toured flood-stricken communities in New Jersey, a state Napolitano had previously visited.
“Governor if I could just say a quick word of thank you to Secretary Napolitano for coming here. Also thank you to President Obama, who throughout Irene was sympathetically interested in what’s happening here and anxious to make sure the federal government came to our help,” U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Monday.
Lieberman pointed out that FEMA didn’t handle Hurricane Katrina the way it should have.
“I remember an official down in the Gulf Coast saying that FEMA has just become another four letter word. But here in Connecticut I gotta tell you we love FEMA,” Lieberman said. “That’s another four letter word. We love FEMA.“
Malloy himself defended the federal agency against attacks from Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
“For someone in Texas to be talking about FEMA perhaps being defunded really does rise to idiocy and hypocrisy. I mean what state has benefited more than Texas over the years from declarations of disasters. … This is pure politics playing out across individual’s misery,” Malloy said in an interview with CNN last week.
Lieberman acknowledge funding for the federal agency has caused some partisan attacks in Washington.
“Just as we said during the debt ceiling debate, America doesn’t default on its bond holding obligations. We don’t and will not default on our statutory obligation to individuals who have been hurt by Irene here in Connecticut,” Lieberman concluded.
Lieberman was joined at the afternoon press conference by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. Reps. Chris Murphy and Rosa DeLauro. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney participated by phone in a conference call prior to the press conference.