Governor Andrew Cuomo took a helicopter tour of areas devastated from Hurricane Sandy, along with New York's Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. He says the state faces "significant" challenges to rebuild, and will have to "fundamentally" rethink New York City's infrastructure going forward.
Cuomo organized a helicopter tour of locations particularly hurt by Sandy, including Breezy Point, where a massive fire destroyed over 100 homes and Long Beach, Long Island, where the beach has eroded completely away and houses are flooded. He also saw JFK airport, where planes have been grounded for days.
Afterward, Cuomo, who visited disaster sites when he was HUD Secretary under President Bill Clinton, says he's never seen New York like this.
"It is very disturbing and sad and troubling to see the amount of damage done and the lives that have been disrupted," said Cuomo, who added he found sights of devastation at Breezy Point , Long Beach and Fire Island "breathtaking"
Senator Chuck Schumer says he's confident that federal money and assistance from FEMA is coming.
"It's one of the biggest disasters to have ever struck this state, and even this country," said Schumer. "The federal response has to measure that scope."
MTA Chair Joe Lhota says public transportation is slowly coming back to life, some subway lines are open, buses are being ramped up to full service, and commuter lines Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road are opening on a limited basis. And he says workers are still trying to get the water out of numerous tunnels, with the help of the special federal unwatering team.
"We're going switch by switch, signal by signal, power substation by power substation," said Lhota, who said the ultimate goal is to restore service "even better."
Governor Cuomo says the state and city will have to build back better, in anticipation of what he says is likely more coastal storm flooding in the future. He says he'll be convening meetings on how to do that shortly. The governor, who's stated already that he believes extreme weather occurrences are here to stay, skirted the line on what's become a political controversy over global warming.
"People will debate whether or not there is climate change," said Cuomo. "That's a whole political debate that I don't want to get into."
Cuomo say he instead wants to discuss the "frequency of extreme weather situations," which he says is "way up."
But Senator Schumer was not reluctant to jump right in.
"There are a group of people in Washington right now who just deny the truth," said Schumer who says he believes there is a "relationship" between the frequent extreme storms "an what's going on in the atmosphere."
Schumer, along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also delved deeper into the politics in Washington, where some Republican conservatives have proposed cutting FEMA and other government disaster aid programs.
"That's the wrong set of priorities," Gillibrand said.
After the briefing, Cuomo was back in the helicopter for another tour of more devastated regions, including the Robert Moses State Park at Jones Beach, where the sand has now disappeared.
Cuomo has also written a letter to President Obama, asking for the federal government to reimburse the state for 100 percent of response and recovery costs. The total expense is expected to reach into the billions of dollars.