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In Sandy’s wake, strange bedfellows: Obama and Christie

President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival in Atlantic City Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Mr. Obama travelled to region to take an aerial tour of the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Barack Obama, his campaign for re-election set aside by the massive destruction wrought by Sandy, will tour shattered Jersey City on Wednesday along with New Jersey's blunt-speaking Republican Governor Chris Christie.

It will be an oddly powerful and symbolic moment as tens of millions of Americans start the long, hard, expensive effort to rebuild and restore normality across half-a-dozen storm-ravaged states.

Gov. Christie, a staunch and outspoken supporter of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and the rousing keynote speaker at the party's convention in Tampa, has voiced high praise for Mr. Obama's handling of the crisis, including his decision to mobilize an array of resources before Sandy stormed ashore.

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"The President has been all over this and he deserves great credit," Gov. Christie said, outraging Republican uber-partisans who are attempting to portray the President's 'commander-in-crisis' role as a crass political ploy.

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh denounced Gov. Christie as "fat and a fool" who "doesn't know what he's talking about."

But the governor of the state hardest hit by the storm – although the flooding of New York City's subway tunnels has garnered much of the media attention – isn't likely to be fazed by the sniping.

"The Jersey Shore of my youth is gone," he said sadly, after a sombre tour of state's famous – and now wrecked – long and varied oceanfront with its tacky towns, glittering gaming centres, famous boardwalks and sweeping beaches.

"There is no question in my mind that we'll rebuild it. But for those of us my age, it won't be the same," the Governor added, in what was a much-wider description of what faces cities and towns all along the eastern seaboard.

Nor was Gov. Christie willing to be drawn back into the political fray in the midst of a disaster. Asked if he expected Mr. Romney to also visit ravaged New Jersey, the blunt-speaking state leader said: "I have no idea,  nor am I the least bit concerned or interested, …. I have a job to do in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics."

"It's time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House," Gov. Christie said then in a rousing speech in Tampa as Mr. Romney looked on beaming.

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What a difference a disaster makes.

With more than six million utility customers – and thus far more people – still without power in six states, the massive clean-up is only just beginning.

Sandy, significantly weakened, was still a major storm system. It has slowed and was centred over western Pennsylvania early Wednesday but was forecast to move north into Canada.

Its multi-pronged devastation had played out with brutal consequences. Huge storm surges caused major flooding along the coast and in New York City. High winds downed thousands of trees causing widespread power outages. Inland, heavy rains caused more local flooding and even heavier snowfalls closed roads.

On Wednesday, blizzard and coastal flood warnings remained for the Great Lakes area.

Still, the beginnings of normality were returning. New York's financial markets were to open Wednesday. Schools were mostly opened from Washington DC to Boston. Two of New York's three main airports opened and airlines were attempting to resume normal operations and moved stranded passengers after cancelling more than 19,000 flights since the weekend.

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Amtrak resumed limited service but flooding in tunnels under the Hudson River meant the high-speed Acela linking Washington, New York and Boston remains cancelled.

Broadway theatres, dark since Sunday, planned to open Wednesday.

But New York's subways remained closed. Limited service on a system that usually carries five million riders daily may resume in a few days. Full resumption will be much longer, with all of the tunnels linking Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens flooded.

"We will get through the days ahead by doing what we always do in tough times – by standing together, shoulder to shoulder, ready to help a neighbor, comfort a stranger and get the city we love back on its feet," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

After his New Jersey visit, Mr. Obama is expected to resume campaigning Thursday. His Republican rival resumed full-blown campaigning Wednesday with three appearances scheduled for Florida, the biggest of the swing states. Vice-President Joe Biden was also stumping Wednesday in Florida, often battered by hurricanes but bypassed by Sandy.

In New Jersey, Halloween is cancelled because conditions are too dangerous for children to be out.

"We will reset Halloween by executive order," Gov. Christie joked amid the gloom. "My power knows no bounds."

- With reports from Reuters and AP

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