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October 30, 2012

Obama to Storm Victims: 'America is With You'

by Margaret Besheer

U.S. President Barack Obama has told Americans affected by the superstorm that ravaged parts of the East Coast of the United States that “America is with you.”  Recovery efforts began Tuesday in hard-hit areas, particularly in New York and New Jersey, which were impacted by the storm known as Sandy.  The storm caused billions of dollars in damage and killed at least 32 people in the United States.

The president spoke from the Washington D.C. headquarters of the American Red Cross.  He said the country would stand behind storm victims and help them recover.

“My message to the governors and the mayors - and through them the communities that have been hit so hard - is that we are going to do everything we can to get resources to you and make sure that any unmet need that is identified, we are responding to it as quickly as possible,” Obama said.

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There are many needs, especially in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where millions are without power, transit systems have ground to a halt, and roads are littered by fallen trees and other debris.  In one Queens, New York neighborhood, 80 houses were damaged or destroyed by fires sparked by the storm and spread by its winds.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it would be several days before this city of more than eight million people is back to normal.  There is flooding to several subway tunnels and damage to tracks and some 750,000 New Yorkers are without electricity.

“You should expect, given the extent of the damage, power may be out in lots of places for two or three days and maybe even a little bit longer than that,” Bloomberg said.

The mayor said public schools would remain closed through Wednesday.  Area airports also sustained damage, with flooded runways canceling thousands of flights.  John F. Kennedy International Airport was expected to reopen Wednesday, but New York's other major air hub, LaGuardia Airport, was expected to remain closed.

New York is the United States' financial capital and the state's governor, Andrew Cuomo, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Wall Street will come back online Wednesday.  But as for other services, he warned residents that the cleanup process would not be quick or easy.

“This is not going to be a short-term situation.  This a long-term recovery and reconstruction effort and that is the way we need to think about it,” Cuomo said.

But for the most part, New Yorkers were trying to take Sandy in stride.

In the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, residents were emerging from their homes Tuesday, exploring the area which is close to the East River and assessing damage.

Resident Conor O'Shea said he was grateful that the area escaped the high waters that swept through lower Manhattan. “We really didn't see any of the major flooding that lower Manhattan saw, so we were lucky,” he said.

But he admitted that dealing with no subways and few buses for the coming days would be a challenge.

“Yeah, it is going to be an issue, so we will see how that goes.  Hopefully they will get it back up sooner rather than later,” O'Shea said.

Eric, a tourist from Paris, France, arrived two days before Sandy and said he was impressed by how New Yorkers were handling the storm's aftermath.

“It's beautiful to see how people here are already working to repair, to cut the trees, and everything,” Eric said.

North of New York, in the state of Connecticut, several coastal communities were pounded by the storm.  Severe flooding and downed trees have left nearly 600,000 residents without electricity.

New Jersey was also badly hit.  More than 2.4 million households were without power on Tuesday and roads and rail systems there were shut down.  Many seaside communities sustained severe damage.  Governor Chris Christie told reporters that some beach homes were swept off their foundations and at one amusement park, some of the rides had ended up in the Atlantic Ocean.