President Barack Obama has vowed that the federal government is “there for the long haul” for residents of New Jersey reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm has left at least 8 dead in the state and more than 2 million are still without power. It has created surreal landscapes of sand-filled streets with beach houses on top of other beach houses and the Seaside Heights roller coaster in the ocean. At many gas stations, hundreds of people spent Wednesday in lines gripping plastic containers to fill with gas to fuel generators.
Everyone in New Jersey goes “down the shore” in the summer. I still remember the first time my husband dipped our now-teenage son Charlie’s feet in the waves off Brant Beach in Long Beach Island or “LBI.” Nearly every house on the southern end of the 18-mile barrier island — from which you can see Atlantic City — has been damaged by the storm.
On Wednesday afternoon, Obama, along with New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie, took a helicopter tour of the shore and met residents at a shelter on another barrier island, Brigantine, near Atlantic City which is nine miles away from where Sandy made landfall on Monday night.
Christie, who was frequently mentioned as a possible running mate for GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, has long been Obama’s “political antagonist.” But such was not at all apparent during and after (and, indeed, before) the President’s New Jersey visit, with Christie piling on the praises about the “significant afternoon” he had spent with Obama who was said to have “sprung into action immediately to help.” Christie, who gave the keynote speech at the GOP convention, talked about his and Obama’s “great working relationship,” extraordinary leadership and partnership.”
With Christie nodding behind him and FEMA Director Craig Fugate also present, Obama spoke of dispatching C-130 military planes to bring supplies to New Jersey and other places suffering damages from Sandy, while urging storm victims to call (800) 621-FEMA. “We are here for you and we will not forget, we will follow up to make sure you get all the help you need until you rebuild,” Obama said.
The New York Times described the President’s visit as a “vivid display of big-government muscle and bipartisan harmony” that put Romney, who is on the record for saying that he would eliminate FEMA, in an “awkward position during the last week of a campaign in which he has fought Mr. Obama to a virtual draw.”
Amid preparing for the hurricane, getting through that stormy night and caring for Charlie, who’s severely autistic and has been unmoored with anxiety at the disappearance of his routine (most New Jersey schools have been closed all week), I confess, I’ve practically forgotten about the election.
To keep Charlie occupied, we’ve been driving him places (I know, not the most prudent idea given those endless lines at the gas stations, but you do what you have to do). In the early afternoon on Wednesday, we noted a helicopter hovering above us in central Jersey and while it could not have been the President’s, I felt grateful to know that he’d come to New Jersey, been welcomed and, with his emphasis on the human toll of the hurricane that has shaken up the lives of every resident, reminded us of why government can make a difference in people’s lives.
As Obama said to the residents of Brigantine, “We are not going to tolerate red tape. We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy. We will not quit until this is done.”
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Photo of Long Beach Island taken on October 31, 2012, by The National Guard