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Schumer on Emergency Aid for Victims of Hurricane Katrina

Floor Statement of Sen. Charles Schumer on Emergency Aid for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina:

Mr. President, tonight our nation is experiencing one of the most tragic and heartrending natural disasters in our history. Entire towns have been destroyed. Lives upturned, families lost, and the chaos we have all watched unfold continues even tonight.

Our hearts go out to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and all of the Gulf states affected by Hurricane Katrina. And our prayers go out most of all to those still stranded in New Orleans and those who have lost loved ones. The images on TV are devastating hungry, weeping children sitting on the street amidst garbage, family members returning to the destroyed remains of their neighborhoods, discovering they have lost everything they ever owned, from precious family keepsakes to their houses, cars and livelihoods and angry, frightened people, with nowhere to go and no rescue in sight. I join with all Americans, and people all over the world, in praying for the safe rescue of all the victims of this heartbreaking tragedy.

Four years ago, my City of New York faced a devastating attack and America stood with us in our time of need. New Yorkers will stand with the people of the Gulf region now as they stood with us.

The love and support New Yorkers received from the rest of the country after 9/11 meant so much in the wake of those attacks and the long, difficult road to recovery. I want the people of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast to know we will support them too, no matter how long and difficult their recovery may be. We will do whatever it takes to help now, tomorrow and into the future.

Our first step comes tonight, when the Senate will agree to provide $10.5 billion in desperately needed disaster relief funds to the devastated region. And we will stand unified with President Bush and ready to provide everything and anything that New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf region will need to recover and rebuild. Just as we did after 9/11, this body and the entire nation will work together to overcome this disaster. The American people are strong and we will persevere.

Like so many Americans, I have been watching the terrible images on TV and of course, I worry about the thousands of people still stranded at the Superdome and throughout the city and region without food, water, sanitary facilities or medical treatment. And I worry so very much about the desperately ill people, including small babies and frail seniors, who need medical care. And the people who may still be trapped in places rescuers have not yet reached.

I know firsthand how difficult it can be to organize a massive rescue and recovery effort, and clearly this disaster is unprecedented in its scope and difficulty.

Tonight a lot of peoples lives still hang in the balance. Money for the long run is necessary, and that is why we are here tonight, but there is a lot more we must do immediately. We must focus all our efforts on rescuing those who are ill and need medicine, who are hungry and thirsty and frightened and despairing. We must get these people to shelter and to medical facilities immediately. We must fly in food, water, clothing, blankets, medicine and whatever else is needed. We must get as many ships, buses, and trucks as we can to transport the victims and begin clearing the wreckage. We must provide the soldiers and law enforcement officials needed to restore law and order.

This is literally a life and death crisis, where every moment of delay has a human price. There is not a minute to lose, no matter the cost.

I know the phones have been ringing off the hook in my office and those of my colleagues. We are hearing from our constituents who have so many difficult and heartfelt questions about what went wrong in this tragedy and what else could have been done to prevent it. Now we must keep our total focus on saving lives, but I want them to know that their questions are not falling on deaf ears. In due time, we will ask those tough questions, not to lay blame, but to learn from the mistakes that were made so that the nation will be better prepared for the next disaster we might face.

But now is time for action, for solving these problems and for saving the lives that hang in the balance. In the days and months ahead this nation will pull together as we did after 9/11. We will do everything we can to help the victims and repair and rebuild the cities and towns of the Gulf, especially the muchbeloved City of New Orleans.

Just as we did in New York, we will face difficulties and great sorrow, but I know I join all my colleagues here in the Senate in pledging all the assistance financial and beyond the Gulf region needs and anything else in our power to help our fellow citizens. Tonight our prayers are with them.