Biden calls Ida’s damage to NJ ‘unbelievable’ after Manville tour
MANVILLE – President Joe Biden called “incredible” the damage inflicted on this Somerset county borough by the remnants of Hurricane Ida during a tour on Tuesday which he said underlines the importance of the bill on infrastructure pending in Congress.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable,” said Biden. “What surprises me is that what you wouldn’t otherwise assume could generate a height of water that in some cases rose almost to the windows. of these houses, literally over your head, according to the people here. It’s pretty amazing. I’ve seen this before, but that’s when the dikes broke or things got down. exchange.
Biden spent about three hours in New Jersey, as part of a northeast swing that also included a tour of the flooded areas of Queens, New York. In addition to visiting Manville, he discussed the flooding with state and local officials at the Somerset County Emergency Operations Center in Hillsborough.
“The losses we are going to witness today are profound. Dozens of lives lost, houses destroyed in Manville, especially by gas leaks triggered by the floods. Damaged infrastructure, including the rail system, ”Biden said. “My thoughts are with all these families affected by storms and all these families who have lost a loved one. “
Biden spoke to a number of residents on an approximately half-hour walking tour of the Lost Valley neighborhood in Manville.
A Biden family spoke to the house that exploded after a gas leak occurred hours before the flooding began on Wednesday night to protect their 4-month-old baby. A woman said her husband and father returned home at 1 a.m. on Thursday to pick up their cat and some items – but had to leave within 5 minutes when the warning sirens started sounding.
“At 2 or 3 am the water started to come in and it came very quickly. Within hours we had a lot of water in the basement. The whole basement was flooded, it’s still flooded, ”she said.
“The first floor would have been, everything would have been ruined anyway,” she said. “Our plan was to come back after the water went down. Our daughter’s nursery is on the second floor.
“And it’s over there on the other corner,” Biden said.
“Yes, half of her nursery, the wall is up there and the other half of her nursery is down the street,” the woman said. “And our plan was to come in and save his things, but unfortunately probably around 2:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m. Thursday, the house was on fire.”
“Thank goodness you haven’t come back,” Biden said.
“Yes, thank goodness we weren’t near the house. No one in the area has been able to come back yet because the waters were so high, ”she said. “So we’re extremely grateful that we were able, all of us in the community, we were all able to not be here when this happened. “
Leaving the White House and again in Hillsborough, Biden said Ida’s devastation shows the importance of approving the infrastructure plan awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives, which includes around $ 150 billion. dollars related to climate change.
“We can’t just rebuild what it was before,” Biden said. “No matter how damaged New Jersey is, you can’t rebuild and restore what it was before because another tornado, 10 more inches of rain is going to produce the same kind of results. “
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell said FEMA recently authorized nearly $ 5 billion in funding for risk mitigation.
“I think what we’ve seen over the past week is that no one is immune from the threats we face as a result of these disasters,” Criswell said.
Criswell said more than 7,000 families in New Jersey’s six counties have declared major disaster areas because of Ida – Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic and Somerset – have already requested individual help.
“That number will continue to grow,” Criswell said.
Residents of these six counties can register on Disasterassistance.gov, through the FEMA app, or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or 1-800-621-3362.
Criswell said more counties could also be declared major disaster areas.
“We continue to assess the damage today. So I have staff on the ground today doing assessments in Essex, Hudson, Union and Mercer, ”she said. “We wanted to be able to put this disaster declaration in place quickly, knowing that we still had to do additional damage assessments to really better understand the magnitude of the impact communities are having across New Jersey. “
Gov. Phil Murphy said he hoped FEMA would add more counties to the list.
“If you’re not in the Six Counties, we’ve put together a website, NJ.gov/Ida, and hopefully that’s a landing place for when people can go up to to be designated as a disaster country, ”Murphy said. .
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One on the Washington-New York flight that Biden was “very willing” to add more counties to the disaster declaration major.
“I was there in the room when he spoke with Governor Murphy last week, and what he said to him was, ‘Just tell me what you need to help the people of New Jersey get together. restore it, and we’ll work to get you that, ”Psaki said. “The president is very willing to hear what he needs.
“And sometimes these requests only take a moment to be dealt with, but the president has focused on pressuring his team to act and provide the requested resources,” Psaki said.