US House approves $9.7 billion in Sandy flood aid

The first large aid package for victims of the deadly Superstorm Sandy today started moving through the US Congress as the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved USD 9.7 billion to pay flood insurance claims.

A Senate vote was expected later in the day.

The vote came more than two months after the storm left 120 dead and thousands homeless in the densely-populated Northeast and days after area officials and lawmakers erupted over House Speaker John Boehner's decision earlier in the week to the delay the vote.

All "no" votes in the 354-67 House count were cast by Republicans, who largely object to more government spending without spending cuts to offset it.

Northeast lawmakers say the Sandy aid money is urgently needed for victims of one of the worst storms ever to strike the region and the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. The bill gives more borrowing authority to the National Flood Insurance Programme (NFIP) to pay about 1,15,000 pending claims.

Superstorm Sandy had ripped apart the famed New Jersey shore and parts of the New York City area coastline, leaving thousands homeless.

The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 3,05,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 2,65,000 businesses were affected.

About 1,40,000 Sandy-related flood insurance claims have been filed, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials said, and added that most have yet to be closed out. Many flood victims have only received partial payments.

The House will vote January 15 on an additional USD 51 billion in recovery money. Senate action on that measure is expected the following week.

More than USD 2 billion in federal money has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm.

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