Obama surveys Sandy damage

 16 Nov 2012 - 1:28


US President Barack Obama greets New York Governor Mario Cuomo watched by (from left) Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on arrival at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York City yesterday.

NEW YORK: US President Barack Obama surveyed damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy in a helicopter ride yesterday over parts of New York City even as many local residents remained without power and faced fuel shortages 17 days after the disaster struck.

Air Force One brought Obama to New York’s John F Kennedy airport, where the president, wearing a windbreaker and sturdy shoes, was greeted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, wearing a red tie and overcoat.

Along with other officials, they boarded a helicopter and flew over storm-ravaged neighbourhoods including the Rockaways, Breezy Point and Coney Island before landing in the hard-hit borough of Staten Island.

Joining Obama were: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan; and both New York US senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Disaster victims are increasingly frustrated at the lack of electricity, shortages of gasoline and bureaucratic obstacles to recovery, and Obama must now answer to people unhappy their lives have yet to return to normal. 

Before Obama arrived, at Staten Island’s Cedar Grove Avenue, a small army of federal, state and local law enforcement walked mud-caked streets as vehicles hauled away debris. Construction crews fixed cracked streets and weary neighbors worked with volunteers to fill dumpsters full of water-logged furniture and broken shards of sheet rock. Obama yesterday met with families recovering from the storm, local officials, firefighters and medical emergency personnel, and staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which likely will need a cash infusion from the US Congress to fully reimburse victims and local governments eligible for federal storm relief. 

The federal government’s immediate handling of Sandy drew none of the criticism directed at former President George W Bush following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama even earned rave reviews from some political opponents.

Obama won re-election on November 6. Before the election, Obama met with residents of coastal New Jersey whose businesses and lives also were upended by the storm. 

In some neighbourhoods, tons of debris are still piled up in the streets. Petrol is still hard to get in some places and public transportation is under severe strain. Red Cross relief efforts have come under fire. Cuomo estimated that the storm, which killed at least 120 people, caused $50bn in damage and economic loss, with $33bn of that in his state.

FEMA is due to reimburse some victims and local governments for damage but only has about $8.1bn available, meaning Congress may have to dig deeper into its pockets at a time when much of the talk is of fiscal restraint in Washington.