Lawmakers ramp up calls for federal help to hurricane-hit states

An Obama campaign sign rises above the floodwaters in front of a home as rain falls in Norfolk, Va.
(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

WASHINGTON -- As monstrous Hurricane Sandy beats a wide swath through the East Coast, the storm is creating another type of high pressure zone: Members of Congress running for reelection are reaching out to federal officials to make sure the government takes care of their district.

To be sure, representatives routinely put pressure on federal agencies to make sure that their constituents are reimbursed for major storm damage and rescue efforts. But with the hurricane bearing down just one week from Election Day, the stakes are even higher.

Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security are receiving an unusual volume of calls from members of Congress, said an administration official who was not authorized to speak to the media.

If the storm stays on its current track, it is projected to hit more than 168 congressional districts, he said.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy approaches

“Everyone is being extra cautious,” said the official, pointing out that throughout the northeast lawmakers have closed schools, shut most mass transit systems, ordered widespread evacuations and put tens of millions more on edge hours before the brunt of the storm hits.

President Obama has made emergency disaster declarations in seven states: Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, plus Washington, D.C.

Issued at the request of the governors, the declarations guarantee federal reimbursement for 75% of a state’s costs preparing for the onslaught. That includes setting up emergency shelters, pre-positioning supplies, shoring up flood prone areas and assisting evacuations.

PHOTOS: Massive U.S. storms

Moving quickly to unlock federal money encourages local officials to prepare adequately for the storm, said officials. At times, the storm doesn’t live up to dire predictions, or it veers off track and the wrong jurisdictions prepare.

When Hurricane Irene slammed into the Eastern Seaboard in August 2011, it caused more than $15 billion in damage and at least 56 deaths, but the worst destruction wasn’t where forecasters had predicted or where people had prepared.

Washington, D.C., for example, girded for a historic storm, but the hurricane unexpectedly veered north and caused massive flooding in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.

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