by Mark Duell, Toby Harnden, and Lydia Warren Daily Mail
Abandoned homes surrounded in water, bridges torn in half – this is the view President Obama had today when he took a helicopter tour of a stretch of the New Jersey coast devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
The President revised his election campaigning plans and travelled to Atlantic City to see for himself the widespread damage caused by the storm.
He was joined on the presidential helicopter, Marine One, for the one-hour tour by Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has put partisan politics aside in the wake of the disaster.
‘I want to let you know that your governor is working overtime,’ Obama told victims at an emergency shelter after the tour.
‘The entire country has been watching what’s been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit.’
Christie said: ‘It’s really important to have the president of the United States here.’
Obama returned the compliment.
The politicians’ meeting came as people in the heavily populated US East Coast corridor battered by Sandy took the first cautious steps to reclaim their upended daily routines, even as rescuers combed neighbourhoods strewn with debris and scarred by floods and fire.
By Tuesday night, the winds and flooding inflicted by the fast-weakening Sandy had subsided, leaving at least 55 people dead along the Atlantic Coast and splintering beachfront homes and boardwalks from the mid-Atlantic states to southern New England.
The storm later moved across Pennsylvania on a predicted path toward western New York State and Canada.
At the height of the disaster, more than 8.2 million customers lost electricity – some as far away as Michigan. Nearly a quarter of those without power were in New York, where lower Manhattan’s usually bright lights remained dark for a second night.
Christie, who is a vocal supporter of GOP nominee Mitt Romney, has changed his partisan tune after the storm, regularly singing Obama’s praises in relation to the federal aid given toward disaster relief support.
‘The president has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency),’ Christie told the Today Show on Tuesday.
Christie later told news anchor Soledad O’Brien that Obama ‘has been incredibly supportive and helpful to our state, and not once did he bring up the election.’
New Jersey was one of the hardest-hit in Monday night’s storm, and power outages in the state’s two biggest cities – Newark and Jersey City – have prevented progress, as traffic lights remain out of action.
The visit came after the President’s second visit to FEMA headquarters for an update on federal progress.
Obama took a motorcade to FEMA’s offices in D.C. to meet with agency chiefs before the flight to Atlantic City to meet with Sandy’s victims and relief workers.
Days before the election, the President has kept up a steady public presence overseeing the storm response, while cancelling a series of public campaign rallies.
It was Obama’s second visit in four days with the agency. On Sunday, he met FEMA officials, then told reporters the government will ‘respond big and respond fast’ after the massive storm made landfall.
The President also paid a visit to the headquarters of the Red Cross on Tuesday, saying he wanted ‘no bureaucracy, no red tape’ to interfere with recovery, and suggested the military might be able to help in view of the enormity of the damage.
‘This is a tough time for millions of people … But America is tougher,’ he said.
The speed of their response has prompted criticism from Michael ‘heckuva job’ Brown, the former FEMA director who was roundly criticized for the agency’s response to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina.
‘One thing (President Obama’s) gonna be asked is, why did he jump on (Sandy) so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when (after) Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas? Why was this so quick?’ Brown told a Denver news station.
After tamping down his partisan tone on Tuesday at an Ohio event that emphasised victims’ relief, Mr Romney planned three full-blown campaign rallies today in Florida, the largest competitive state.
Sandy largely spared Florida, so Mr Romney calculates he can campaign there without appearing callous. But President Obama’s revised schedule is also a political gamble.
Rather than use the campaign’s final Wednesday to woo voters in the tossup states that will decide the election, Obama decided to go before cameras with Christie.