President Barack Obama on Sunday toured the flood-battered state of New Jersey to survey damage from Hurricane Irene, which last week left entire towns underwater and claimed dozens of lives along the US east coast.
The president made stops in two waterlogged cities, Wayne and Paterson, where damage from Irene, which struck the state as a tropical storm, was particularly severe.
“Obviously visiting Wayne, visiting Paterson, many of the surrounding communities gives you a sense of the devastation that has taken place not only here in New Jersey, but in upstate New York and Vermont and a whole range of states that were affected by Hurricane Irene,” Obama said after taking an aerial tour of the damage wrought by Irene, which flooded town centers, blocked roads and forced thousands of people from their homes.
“The main message that I have for all of the residents not only of New Jersey but all those communities that have been affected by flooding, by the destruction that occurred as a consequence of Hurricane Irene, is that the entire country is behind you,” the president said.
“And we are going to make sure that we provide all of the resources that are necessary in order to help these communities rebuild.”
Obama last week declared a “major” disaster area in the northeastern state, making federal funds available to those affected by the hurricane and floods, including providing temporary housing and home repairs and loans to cover property losses.
He arrived a little after noon (1600 GMT) at Newark Liberty International Airport, and was met by New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie, and the state’s two Democratic US senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
He was accompanied by Craig Fugate, the head of the US disaster response office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
En route to New Jersey, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama “looks forward to hearing from the federal response team and local officials.”
Paterson in particular experienced devastating floods after more than eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain fell during the storm, causing the Passaic River to rise to record levels.
Irene made landfall last Saturday in North Carolina, with winds upwards of 85 miles (140 kilometers) an hour, careening up the US east coast in a weaker, but still potent state before petering out in Canada.
Carney told reporters accompanying the president that Obama was also keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Lee which made landfall in Louisiana early Sunday.