Obama and New York leaders tour ravaged areas of storm-hit city


New York governor Andrew Cuomo and mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed US president Obama at JFK airport yesterday morning at the restart of his, and their, tour of areas worst affected by superstorm Sandy.

President Obama’s visit began with a helicopter tour that took him over the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens and on to Staten Island, where he visited Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) recovery tents, and walked storm-ravaged neighbourhoods.

“People still need emergency help. They still need heat, they still need power, they still need food, they still need shelter,” said Mr Obama.

“I really hoped he would come,” said Staten Island assemblyman Michael Cusick. It was only after Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand came to Staten Island three days after the storm hit on October 29th that people really paid attention to the neighbourhood’s plight, he added.

“It’s important that cabinet members keep coming, and I think the President today is sending the message that the federal government is engaged and he’s letting us know they’re going to keep being engaged.”

For many, this visit begs the question of how much money New York will obtain from Washington to cover the expense of rebuilding. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand of New York accompanied the president on Air Force One from Washington. They called for up to $1 billion in federal aid yesterday to repair and fortify at least 120 miles of coast from Montauk Point to Rockaway Beach. This comes after Mr Cuomo requested a $30 billion disaster plan earlier this week, including $3.5 billion for infrastructure repairs and $1.65 billion to rebuild homes.

“People in high rise buildings, elderly people, they’re trapped on the 28th, 29th floor with no power, no water, no heat – and they’re getting rent slips under their door,” said outraged aid worker Eric Moed, based in Coney Island “What people want is to know . . . who’s going to help them?”

Now that the shock of the storm has subsided, “figuring out the numbers” is most people’s chief concern. “Questions about insurance and whether Fema assistance is enough are the issues facing us now.”

Mr Obama’s top spokesman, Jay Carney, said the White House hasn’t yet responded to federal aid requests but that the administration would do everything to “cut the red tape and help the region rebuild”, which echoes promises made by Mr Obama during his first storm damage tour to New Jersey last month.