x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

New York governor likens Superstorm Sandy to Katrina as damage costs soar

Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor, declared Superstorm Sandy in some ways worse than 2005's Hurricane Katrina as he said his state would need US$42 billion to recover.

The New York governor says his state would need US$42 billion (Dh154.2bn) to recover from the damage wreaked in late October and prevent future catastrophe.
The New York governor says his state would need US$42 billion (Dh154.2bn) to recover from the damage wreaked in late October and prevent future catastrophe.

ALBANY, NEW YORK // Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor, declared Superstorm Sandy in some ways worse than 2005's Hurricane Katrina as he said his state would need US$42 billion (Dh154.2bn) to recover from the damage wreaked in late October and prevent future catastrophe.

The figure includes more than $32bn for damage and restoration and an additional $9bn to head off damage in future storms, including steps to protect the power grid and mobile phone network.

As he and other political leaders in his state conferred on how much federal aid to seek, he said New York taxpayers cannot foot the bill.

"It would incapacitate the state," he said at a news conference Monday. "Tax increases are always a last, last, last resort."

Comparisons of Sandy to Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Mexican Gulf coast in 2005, put the East Coast's recovery "in focus," he declared, saying Sandy hit a more densely populated region and caused more costly damage than Katrina.

Katrina killed more than 1,800 people, flooded nearly the entire city of New Orleans and caused some $108bn in damage. Sandy killed more than 100 as it swamped coastal areas, toppled trees and dumped snow inland, and the most recent estimates indicate damage totalling more than $62bn in several eastern states, with New York and New Jersey taking the brunt of the damages and costs.

Previous estimates, which often fluctuated, had put Sandy's damage at around $50bn. That already made it the second most destructive US storm in history, after Katrina.

New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, who announced yesterday that he could not abandon the state during its recovery and would seek re-election next year, has put the preliminary damage estimate in his state at $29.5 b.

"It would be wrong for me to leave now," said Christie, a Republican who controversially lauded President Barack Obama for his attentiveness after the storm. "I don't want to leave now. We have a job to do. That job won't be finished by next year."

States typically get 75 per cent reimbursement for the cost of governments to restore mass transit and other services after a disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out nearly $248 million already in New Jersey.

In New York, Mr Cuomo, a Democrat, met with his state's congressional delegation to discuss the new figures and present "less than a wish list." The delegation, Mr Cuomo and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will now draw up a request for federal disaster aid.

Mr Bloomberg had announced earlier in the day that Sandy caused $19bn in losses in New York City - part of the $32bn estimate Mr Cuomo used.

Hard times were already facing the state and city governments that were staring at deficits of more than $1bn before Sandy hit in late October. State tax receipts have also missed projections, showing a continued slow recovery from a recession that could hit taxpayers in the governments' budgets this spring. And there's the looming fiscal cliff, the combination of expiring federal tax cuts and major spending cuts that could rattle the economy.

"Make no mistake, this will not be an easy task, particularly given the impending fiscal cliff, and a Congress that has been much less friendly to disaster relief than in the past," said Sen Charles Schumer, a powerful New York Democrat.

"We will work with the [Obama] administration on supplemental legislation, to be introduced in the upcoming December session of Congress, that will set us on the road to meeting New York's needs," he said. "This will be an effort that lasts not weeks, but many months, and we will not rest until the federal response meets New York's deep and extensive needs."