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Sunday
Sep042011

Obama on Hurricane Irene Recovery: 'Everybody's Working Hard'

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images(NEWARK, N.J.) -- President Obama was in New Jersey Sunday to take his first tour of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, a week after the storm pounded the East Coast with heavy rain and winds.

He flew into Newark where he was greeted by Gov. Chris Christie and Senators Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, and then traveled by motorcade to see Paterson and Wayne— two cities hit hard by the flooding.

Christie, who is leading the tour of the damage, has at times criticized Obama for not showing decisive enough leadership, but he had nothing but praise for the president's handling of Hurricane Irene.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One that they chose Paterson because it's a place the president could visit that was severely affected by the storm.

In Wayne, where homes are still flooded and the streets are littered with water-damaged debris, he walked through the shattered neighborhoods, speaking to people and offering hope and comfort.

"Everybody's going to be working hard to help you recover," Obama told one woman.

Paterson, the state's third largest city, was flooded when the Passaic River reached its highest level in more than a century, forcing more than 6,000 people to evacuate.

Last week, Obama declared 16 New Jersey counties major disaster areas, freeing up federal dollars for recovery efforts. On his tour Sunday, he was joined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and Lisa Jackson, from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The cost of the damage has not yet been tallied in New Jersey, but is expected to reach billions of dollars.

The White House has requested additional money to help pay for disaster relief throughout the region affected by the storm, but that funding could get caught up in the partisan budget battle, as Republicans in Congress insist on balancing any additional FEMA funding with equal spending cuts. FEMA says it has less than $800 million in its bank account.

Carney lashed out at the partisan bickering that could hold up relief for the dozens of towns and cities suffering after Irene.

"When disaster strikes, Americans suffer, not Democrats, not independents, not Republicans," he said. "Americans suffer, and then we come together and put politics aside to make sure that those Americans get the assistance that they need."

The presidential visit to Paterson comes as officials keep an eye on another major storm pounding the South, parts of which are still recovering from devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Tropical Storm Lee is unleashing heavy rain and wind on Gulf Coast states. Carney said the administration is concerned about what "has been and will be a significant amount of rainfall."

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