The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved Friday a first provision of $9.7 billion for homeowners who suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy, three days after it earned angry protests for delaying the vote.

The initial part of the proposed federal aid package was approved with a vote of 354-67 and is the first legislation passed by the House in the new legislative session.

All of the "no" votes were cast by Republicans.

The bill passed Friday will allow the National Flood Insurance Program to increase its borrowing limit so it can pay claims for damage from Sandy, which struck the U.S. Northeast in late October.

Since Tuesday, GOP House Speaker John Boehner has faced harsh criticism from lawmakers - including Republicans - representing states affected by the hurricane for delaying a vote on storm relief.

The chorus of critics also included the governors of New York and New Jersey, the two hardest-hit states.

Some of the toughest words came from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, himself a prominent Republican.

"We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans," Christie said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Responding to the blacklash, Boehner scheduled Friday's vote on the flood-insurance measure and promised the House would vote Jan. 15 on the rest of the $61 billion in storm-recovery aid proposed by President Barack Obama.

The Senate has already approved the package in its entirety.

Among the Republicans who voted "no" on Friday was former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who said it was "irresponsible" to increase the national debt without enacting what he considers "necessary reforms." EFE