Storm Sandy: Obama surveys devastation in Atlantic City

President Obama pledged help for those affected by Sandy as he visited Brigantine, New Jersey

US President Barack Obama has toured the state of New Jersey, to survey the devastation two days after the huge storm, Sandy, made landfall nearby.

With Republican Governor Chris Christie, he met rescue workers and residents in Atlantic City.

The massive cyclone killed 63 people across the north-eastern US, severing power to millions.

The disaster prompted Mr Obama to hold off campaigning for a third day ahead of next Tuesday's US elections.

He and Gov Christie boarded the presidential Marine One helicopter upon arrival in southern New Jersey on Wednesday for an aerial tour of the damage.

'Concern and compassion'

They were joined by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate.

At a joint news conference afterwards, Mr Obama said: "We are here for you and we will not forget. We will follow up to make sure you get all the help you need until you rebuild."

Analysis

It's a mixed picture along the Jersey shore: a huge shopping mall open for business just inland from Atlantic City, but lights out and long queues at gas stations not far away. And a new inconvenience today as police cars block off highways to make room for President Obama's motorcade.

In Atlantic City itself, reports of the famous boardwalk's destruction turn out to be exaggerated. Thanks to a sand wall, the seafront facing the towering casinos seems more or less intact. But at the northern tip of the city, where the glitzy casinos give way to grittier scenes of long-term urban blight, the boardwalk is gone. Local people say this popular spot for fishermen was decaying long before Hurricane Sandy finished the job.

A mostly African-American crowd gathers to watch the media at work. When Airforce One appears out of a blue sky, word goes round that this is the spot where Mr Obama will appear. Minutes later, the president's helicopter swoops past, heading for scenes of destruction elsewhere. "Better come back if he wants my vote," someone jokes.

The president said he had set down a "15-minute rule" with his team for response to governors and mayors seeking federal assistance.

"We are not going to tolerate red tape; we're not going to tolerate bureaucracy," said Mr Obama, whom Republicans often accuse of over-regulation.

The New Jersey governor, usually one of Mr Obama's fiercest critics, spoke of his "great working relationship" with the Democratic president.

"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for the people of our state," said the Republican.

Mr Obama praised the governor's "extraordinary leadership" and said Mr Christie had put his "heart and soul" into the relief effort.

Gov Christie has in recent days applauded Mr Obama's handling of the storm's aftermath.

BBC North America editor Mark Mardell, in Atlantic City, says such plaudits ring louder than anything a celebrity or supporter could say, and underline the power of incumbency.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney cancelled campaign events at the height of the disaster, but is now back on the trail with rallies in the crucial swing state of Florida.

Mr Obama plans to resume campaigning on Thursday with stops in Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Homes and streets remain under water in parts of New Jersey, where Sandy struck on Monday night.

In Hoboken, across the Hudson river from New York City, the National Guard has been evacuating deluged homeowners and distributing meals.

Halloween postponed

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has warned that live wires are dangling in standing water, which is becoming contaminated with sewage.

Aerial footage shows Sandy devastation

Of more than 6m homes and businesses across the north-east that still have no electricity, a third of them are in New Jersey.

Gov Christie has postponed Halloween to next Monday on account of the disruption.

Life is slowly returning to normal in New York City, where the storm brought a record tidal surge that swamped the subway and caused widespread blackouts.

Following two days of closure, the New York Stock Exchange reopened, albeit running on generator power, along with the Nasdaq.

But New York City's Bellevue Hospital had to order the evacuation of some 500 patients after back-up electricity failed.

During Wednesday's rush hour, parts of Manhattan were paralysed by traffic gridlock.

A partial subway service is due to begin on Thursday. Many bus services are already back on the roads, and most of the city's bridges have reopened.

But the Holland Tunnel, connecting New Jersey and New York City, remains flooded.

Flights have now resumed at JFK and Newark Liberty airports, though the city's LaGuardia airport remains closed. Nearly 20,000 flights were grounded by Sandy.

About 100 homes were razed by fires at Breezy Point in the borough of Queens.

John Frawley, who lives in the community, told the Associated Press: "I stayed up all night. The screams. The fire. It was horrifying."

At least 22 people were killed in New York City by the storm, including:

  • Artur Kasprzak, 28, an off-duty policeman who died in the flooded basement of his Staten Island home while moving his family to the attic
  • Lauren Abraham, 23, burned to death after a live wire touched her as she photographed a downed power line in Queens, New York
  • Jessie Streich-Kest, 24, and her friend Jacob Vogelman, 23, were killed by a falling tree as they walked a dog in a Brooklyn park

In all, storm Sandy has claimed more than 130 lives, after killing nearly 70 people when it hit the Caribbean.

Impoverished Haiti is facing severe food shortages after 70% of crops were destroyed by the storm, officials said.

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