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Obama offers short and long-term help for areas hit by Sandy

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs resident Debbie Ingenito as he tours a hurricane-battered Staten Island neighbourhood in New York November 15, 2012.


U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday pledged ongoing federal support for areas still digging out of the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy two weeks ago, and said that the area needed a long-term recovery plan.

"There's a lot of short-term immediate stuff that has to be dealt with and we are going to make sure we stay here as long as people need that immediate help," he told a collection of elected officials, volunteers and survivors after surveying parts of New York that were hit hard by the storm.

"But what we've also already heard is that there is going to be some long-term building that's required," he added.

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Mr. Obama said he was designating the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, as the federal "point person" in the long-term rebuilding effort, and that his administration would continue working with the governors and congressional delegations of New York and New Jersey.

"I have to tell you, the insurance companies and some of the other private sector folks who are involved in this, we need you to show some heart and some spirit in helping people rebuild, as well," he said.

Mr. Obama got a firsthand look Thursday at the devastation that Superstorm Sandy left in New York City, flying in a helicopter above flood-ravaged and burned-out sections along the Atlantic that had scattered debris and roofless homes.

Mr. Obama also was meeting with affected families, local officials and first responders who have been dealing with the deadly storm, which slammed into New York, New Jersey and other East Coast states last month, killing more than 100 people and leaving millions without power.

Mr. Obama had offered to visit the country's largest city shortly after the storm but was pointed toward neighbouring New Jersey instead.

Mr. Obama's visit included an aerial tour that included Breezy Point, a waterfront community in Queens where roughly 100 homes were burned in a massive fire. Blue tarps covered some homes instead of roofs and debris was scattered across neighbourhoods still drying out after the storm.

Mr. Obama met privately with Damien and Glenda Moore, whose young sons, Brandon and Connor, died after being swept away in the storm. The boys were two of more than 100 victims who lost their lives.

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Mr. Obama was joined by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

After the helicopter tour, Obama met with people waiting in line at an emergency response centre at Staten Island's New Dorp High School, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration, IRS, Red Cross and city agencies have tents to help survivors. The White House said about 1,500 people had received services at the centre, one of several in affected areas, as of Monday.

He hugged one woman at the business tent, asking where she was staying and if her loved ones were safe. He also visited a tent where food and toiletries were being distributed and thanked the workers and volunteers who came in from around the country. Several hundred people gathered nearby to see the president and shouted, "We love you!"

Staten Island resident Anthony Gatti, standing in front of his wrecked home down the street from the ocean, said he's grateful for the president's visit but wished it had happened sooner.

"I think it's about time he gets here," said Mr. Gatti, "I think he should've been here a few days ago to see how much devastation we've had here."

Mr. Obama travelled to New Jersey on Oct. 31 to meet with Governor Chris Christie and view recovery efforts in coastal communities. The President viewed flattened houses, flooded neighbourhoods, sand-strewn streets and a still-burning fire along the state's battered coastline.

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Mr. Obama pledged to those affected by the storm that "we are here for you, and we will not forget."

Thousands of people in the New York region remained without power Thursday, especially in New York City's low-income public housing complexes, where some elderly and infirm people find it hard or impossible to leave their homes.

Mr. Cuomo said earlier this week he plans to request $30-billion in federal aid to rebuild, including for improvements such as the construction of a power grid meant to buttress utilities' ability to find and fix outages. It would also upgrade New York City's fuel supply capacity to help prevent consumer shortages and bring new oil and gas pipelines from New England to reduce dependence on shipping the fuel. Long lines at gas stations led to alternate-day rationing in both New York and New Jersey after the storm.

With files from Associated Press

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