US President Barack Obama vowed on Thursday to stick with New Yorkers still struggling 17 days after Hurricane Sandy “until the rebuilding is complete” after getting an up-close look at devastated neighborhoods rendered unlivable.
Obama brought the spotlight to people still living without heat or electricity, and hugged many of those trying to rebuild their lives. He also delivered a message of unity, nine days after a divided US gave him a second term.
“We’re reminded that we are bound together and we have to look out for each other,” Obama said from a block in Staten Island that was demolished by the storm. “The petty differences melt away.”
Obama announced that US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, former chief of New York’s Housing Authority, will be his point person to oversee long-term rebuilding in the region.
The president encountered many still suffering in Sandy’s aftermath, waiting in lines for food, supplies and other help.
He also met privately with parents who experienced the most unthinkable tragedy — the loss of their young boys, Brandon and Connor Moore, who were swept away in the storm. Damien and Glenda Moore’s sons were among more than 100 people who lost their lives because of the powerful storm.
“Obviously, I expressed to them as a father, as a parent, my heartbreak over what they went through,” Obama said.
He said the Moores were “still a little shell shocked,” but wanted to thank the New York City police lieutenant who stayed with them and supported them until their boys’ bodies were found.
“That spirit and that sense of togetherness carry us through,” Obama said.
Before arriving on Staten Island, the president’s helicopter flew over Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, including the waterfront community of Breezy Point, where roughly 100 homes burned to the ground in a massive wind-swept fire.
On Staten Island, Obama met with people waiting in line at an emergency response center at New Dorp High School, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Red Cross and city agencies set up tents to help survivors. The White House said about 1,500 people had received services at the center, 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. Several hundred people gathered nearby to see the president and shouted: “We love you.”
One girl collecting supplies who said her house is unlivable said: “We need help. He should have been here a long time ago.”
Obama also walked along Cedar Grove Avenue, where most of the buildings were boarded up and homes were destroyed.