(TNS) - As teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency set out to do their first tours of the damage from powerful storms that devastated some Connecticut towns last month, two members of the state’s congressional delegation said every effort was underway to get federal assistance to help with the cleanup.
“The costs are in the tens of millions, if not the hundreds of millions of dollars,” U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal said Monday morning outside the public works department in Hamden, one of the hardest-hit towns. “We don’t know the precise numbers but that’s why FEMA is here. They are going to be fanning out across the state.”
FEMA was called in at the request of the state and will spend the better part of the week doing preliminary assessments. They were joined by a number of teams from the state.
“We are committed to stay here as long as it takes to accomplish this mission,” said Diego Alvarado, a spokesman for FEMA.
Alvarado said the process for the state to get federal assistance is still in its early stages. The visit this week provides Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with the information to seek a disaster declaration and then the information goes to the president’s office for the necessary proclamation to approve assistance, officials said. The process, they said, could take months.
Some in the community have been critical that FEMA just arrived, but Alvarado said the state only made the request last week.
The teams’ damage tours, which will go through towns including North Haven, Wallingford, Danbury and Brookfield, started Monday morning in Hamden.
Hamden was one of six towns hit by four tornadoes that touched down during the fast-moving, intense storm on May 15.
The storms, which were marked by heavy winds, drenching rain and reports of hail the size of golf balls, plunged more than 150,000 homes into darkness and left weeks of cleanup for local public works departments. The southern and southwestern portions of the state were among the hardest hit, officials said.
The National Weather Service said tornadoes also touched down in Beacon Falls, Oxford, Southbury, Winsted and Barkhamsted.
Outside the Hamden public works department on Shepard Road, Director Craig Cesare said work continues to clean up the storm damage. Behind him sat a near 30-foot pile of debris from downed trees.
“It’s been a very, very busy couple of weeks for us,” Cesare said. His crews have been to every part of town at least once, he added. “It’s starting to get back to normal, whatever the new normal will be in northern Hamden. It will never look the same.”
It was unclear immediately how much the town has spent on cleanup, but Cesare estimates the costs are already above $1 million.
Disaster emergencies, officials said, require thresholds of damage costs of roughly $5 million statewide.
The FEMA teams will not only be looking at damage to public infrastructure, but also to homes in the region.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who represents the area in Congress and joined Blumenthal Monday, described some of the damage to homes and public infrastructure as “unbelievable.”
“Now is the time to view it … to have the federal agency responsible for all of this to have a look, to talk with the town officials [and] talk with residents about the scale of the devastation,” DeLauro said.
She said the federal assistance will be “critical in moving forward,” but Blumenthal and DeLauro agreed they may need to fight the president to get the needed help.
“There is no question that we are going to be pushing hard — very, very hard — for that presidential proclamation,” DeLauro said of the need for President Trump’s approval for federal assistance.
Both reminded anxious residents that the process takes time.
“We know what this picture looks like. We’ve seen it before at the time of Superstorm Sandy,” Blumenthal said of the federal assistance process. “We are hoping we will get the same responsiveness.”
Even when the assistance becomes available, DeLauro warned “it is very, very difficult” to make people whole again. She said her office is still working on constituent issues from Superstorm Sandy, more than five years ago.
“I don’t think we can be in the business of telling people ‘Yes, it’s 100 percent of what you lost,’” DeLauro said. “We want to get it as close to that [100 percent] and we will be exercising every single pressure on the federal agencies involved … to make people whole again.”
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