Elizabeth Warren, Richard Neal and Jim McGovern pledge to help Webster recover from tornado
WEBSTER -- Members of Massachusetts' congressional delegation met with Webster and Dudley officials Thursday to discuss tornado recovery and relief efforts in wake of the "high-end EF1" that touched down earlier this week.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, joined U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, for an afternoon roundtable discussion with local lawmakers, fire and police officials at Webster Town Hall.
The lawmakers, following the closed door meeting, told reporters that they are committed to helping local officials get the federal support and funds needed to help the towns recover from the tornado.
Neal, who visited the region on Monday, said he and his colleagues are working with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, among others, to see what, if any support, is available to Webster and Dudley.
He, however, noted that the federal agencies will have to first assess the damage before they can declare what is eligible for support.
Warren said although lawmakers are committed to working with federal officials to help Webster and Dudley access support, they are also focused on what the rebuilding process could mean for the towns.
"We're obviously talking about assessment of the damage and what we can do to make sure that federal funds are available, but also starting the conversation about what rebuilding is going to look like -- what's that corner going to look like?" she said. "And, what are the opportunities that it presents for Webster and for a real shot in the arm for Webster to be able to have some new activity in its downtown? ... That's the kind of thing we want to think about."
McGovern, meanwhile, praised local officials' response to the storm. He added that he and his congressional colleagues are "just here to help" and listen.
"There's some real devastation here in Webster and we need to work as a team with our state and local officials to try and help them rebuild," he told reporters. "We talked about whether or not they might be eligible for FEMA money -- the damage may not reach that threshold -- but yet, the damage is still significant. We want to make sure all the insurance agencies provide the appropriate coverage for the damage. We want to work with MEMA, with the state, with the Small Business Administration, with the Economic Development Administration, as well, to maybe get some grants for planning and rebuilding here."
The congressman stressed that lawmakers are committed to helping the towns recover in wake of the storm.
"We have some assignments to do and we're going to follow up with federal agencies to make sure that Webster is high on their list," he said.
All three lawmakers further raised concerns about the number of tornadoes that have touched down in the state in recent years, arguing that the storms underscore the impacts of climate change.
"This is a reminder that climate change has real, tangible implications," Warren said. "We're watching more severe weather, we're watching -- over and over -- these 'never happened before events' or 'happens once every 100 years' and now, they keep happening again and again and again. There are real costs to a changing climate."
Warren added that such weather events are why the United States should be a leader on climate-related issues.
"This is not a time for us to turn our backs on the needs of creating a sustainable world for all of us," she said.
The roundtable came after the short storm, which boasted wind speeds up to 110 miles per hour, damaged trees, buildings and cars in Dudley and Webster on Saturday.
A National Weather Service report found the tornado snapped trees, twisted a gas station overhang, blew out windows and snapped utility poles in the Central Massachusetts towns.
It estimated that the tornado traveled for about half a mile, with a 300-yard-wide path. Also taking part in the roundtable discussion were: State Rep. Joe McKenna, R-Webster, Webster Town Administrator Doug Willardson, Webster Police Chief Timothy Bent, Webster Deputy Police Chief Michael Shaw, Webster Fire Chief Brian Hickey and Dudley Fire Chief Dean Kochanowski, according to Warren's office.
Officials initially issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the storm, but later upgraded it to a tornado warning just over 10 minutes before it touched down in Dudley.
One person was reportedly injured in relation to the storm. No deaths were reported, according to the National Weather Service.