President Obama hugs a woman as he tours a FEMA disaster recovery center… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)
President Obama toured New York’s devastated coastline and beach communities Thursday morning, joining local and state officials to survey the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the country’s second-costliest natural disaster behind Hurricane Katrina.
Obama left Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and landed in New York with New York Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, where he then boarded Marine One for a helicopter tour of New York City and Staten Island, according to pool reports.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, along with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, joined Obama on the tour.
Dressed in a navy blue coat, khakis and running shoes, Obama began his tour at about 8:30 a.m.
The president flew over Far Rockaway and Breezy Point — where more than 100 homes burned in one night as floodwaters kept firefighters at bay — and Staten Island, where thousands remain without power.
He was expected to then head to a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster recovery center, one of six in the area. The president was to meet with first responders and join residents receiving hot meals and registering for federal assistance.
Thursday’s visit was Obama’s second tour of Sandy’s aftermath. In the days leading up to his reelection he visited the New Jersey coastline with Gov. Chris Christie. The leaders comforted residents who saw their homes washed away by Sandy’s massive storm surge and thanked emergency teams providing hot meals and shelter for the thousands who have been displaced.
The federal emergency agency is working with states in the region to find homes for thousands who have applied for assistance. New Jersey may reopen a closed military base and FEMA has begun sending in mobile homes for temporary housing.
Obama’s tour in New Jersey, just days before the Nov. 6 election, became political fodder, with some Republicans criticizing Christie for heaping praise on the federal government’s response to the disaster, which is expected to cost as much as $50 billion.
While Obama toured New York on Thursday, thousands remained without power in Long Island and in New Jersey.
Though most communities have had utilities turned back on, homes in the two states’ hardest hit areas suffered damage beyond basic repairs. Crews have to go door to door to tens of thousands of homes in New Jersey’s Long Beach community and New York’s Long Island to inspect and replace equipment before their power can be turned back on.
Cuomo estimated recovery costs and economic losses to New York at $33 billion and demanded the FEMA cover 100% of the costs.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the government could not offer a specific response to the request because the White House has not yet received details from the state. He said the government would continue to do everything it could to cut through the bureaucracy to help the Northeast rebuild.
Both Cuomo and Bloomberg attribute the wave of storms that have hit the Northeast over the last two years — at least three significant events — to climate change. Bloomberg endorsed Obama ahead of the election and said the president would offer the best options for combating climate change.
Sandy killed almost 200 people in the U.S. and overseas as it coursed through the Caribbean then veered north to strike the U.S. Northeast and Canada before it finally dissipated over the Atlantic Ocean.
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