NEW YORK — President Obama traveled to Queens and Staten Island on Thursday to hug survivors of Hurricane Sandy, meet with local officials and take a helicopter tour of some of the worst damage wrought by the storm. He promised he would continue to return to the region until recovery is complete.
Escaping the partisan posturing in Washington over how to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” Obama spent the day talking to New York officials and storm victims about the flow of federal disaster aid and the continuing struggle to restore power.
He also met privately with Damien and Glenda Moore of Staten Island. The Moores’ two small children, Brandon and Connor, died after being swept away in the storm.
Speaking to residents and first responders in the devastated New Dorp neighborhood of Staten Island, the president assigned his housing secretary, Shaun Donovan, to lead the administration’s efforts in the recovery from Sandy. The powerful storm flooded lower Manhattan, killed more than 80 people and devastated waterfront communities in several states when it came ashore near Atlantic City on Oct. 29.
“There’s still a lot of cleanup to do,” Obama said as he stood in front of a destroyed home on Cedar Grove Avenue in Staten Island. “People still need emergency help. They still need heat. They still need power; they still need shelter; kids are still trying to figure out where they’re going to school.”
Obama traveled to the region with Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats. They were joined in New York by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and two of Obama’s cabinet secretaries, Donovan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The president began the trip with an aerial tour of some of the most hard-hit parts of New York City, passing over the Queens neighborhoods of Breezy Point, where 110 houses burned and many others were destroyed by floodwater, and Far Rockaway, which was inundated by a devastating storm surge.
He then touched down in Staten Island, where a city of white tents — surrounded by neighborhoods still without power — serves as one of six disaster recovery areas in the region. The president spoke with and hugged survivors of the storm and met with federal disaster workers and local officials. He visited a tent stacked with cans of soup, granola bars, cleaning products and other goods to be distributed to survivors.
He then walked along Cedar Grove Avenue, where collapsed houses, yards filled with debris and a boarded-up church revealed the extent of Sandy’s devastation.
“We’ve got some work to do, and I want you to know I’m here to do it,” Obama said to a crowd outside the brick church.
Cuomo has requested $30 billion in federal aid to rebuild devastated parts of his state. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to New York that the administration has committed more than $1.5 billion to support response and recovery efforts, including $600 million already approved in direct assistance to hundreds of thousands of people affected by Sandy.
About 18,000 customers in New York still lacked power as of Tuesday. Shoreline communities face the bulk of the outages.
It was the president’s first trip to the New York area since he won reelection last week. The storm, which hit the week before the election, has been called an “October surprise” that gave Obama the opportunity to appear in command in the days leading up to his defeat of Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Obama attracted extensive media attention when he traveled to New Jersey a few days before the election, touring badly damaged areas with Gov. Chris Christie. The trip prompted criticism of Christie by fellow Republicans, who accused him of undermining Romney with his bipartisan appearances with Obama.