Wednesday, October 31, 2012

President Obama, Gov. Christie Tour New Jersey Storm Damage

"We will not quit until this is done," President declares about recovery effort; video, transcript, pool reports...
President Obama spent Wednesday afternoon in New Jersey with Gov. Chris Christie, taking an aerial tour of the coastline to view damage from Hurricane Sandy, and meeting with storm survivors and first responders.  FEMA chief Craig Fugate joined the President, who visited the Brigantine Community Center--a storm shelter in Brigantine, northeast of Atlantic City--to meet with families.  (Above, the President and Christie in the shelter, speaking with survivors)

"We will not quit until this is done," President Obama declared of the recovery operation.

The President and Governor also visited the Brigantine Marina, and the President made formal remarks after viewing the devastation.  Christie, a Republican, has spent the last few days praising the President's responsiveness to the needs of his state, and there was more today.  The Governor also got praise from the President.  (Above: Touring the devastated Marina)

"I want to just let you know that your governor is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible everybody can get back to normal,” President Obama told those staying at the storm shelter.

"The main message I wanted to send is the entire country has been watching what’s been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey’s been hit."

“It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much," Christie said.


Christie publicly thanked President Obama multiple times, and assured the storm survivors that the promises of aid can be counted on.  The President has promised federal help for rebuilding infrastructure, as well as for homeowners and small businesses.

"I know he means it," Christie said of the President's promises.

The President's remarks:



The transcript of the President and Governor's remarks, and un-edited pool reports from the visit:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
_______________________________________________
For Immediate Release                          
October 31, 2012

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND GOVERNOR CHRISTIE
AFTER SURVEYING DAMAGE FROM HURRICANE SANDY

Brigantine Marina
Brigantine, New Jersey

4:38 P.M. EDT

     GOVERNOR CHRISTIE:  Good afternoon, everybody.  And thank you all for coming today.  I want to thank the members who are here as well.  And obviously, I want to thank the President.

We spent a significant afternoon together surveying the damage up and down the New Jersey coastline; we were on Marine One together to be able to show the President that personally.  I had an opportunity to see it, and we had an opportunity to discuss it at length.  And then, going over to the shelter here, being able to meet with folks to have them see the President and his concern, and the concern that all of us have for making sure that things get back to normal as quickly as possible.

We have lots of challenges.  One of our challenges now is to get back to normalcy.  And so the things we need to do is to make sure that we get power restored as quickly as possible; make sure that people have clean drinking water, and waste water treatment plants are working; hospitals are taken care of the way they need to; and that we get kids back to school.

And so, I discussed all those issues today with the President, and I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things while we were in the car riding together.  So I want to thank him for that.  He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit.  I think this is our sixth conversation since the weekend, and it’s been a great working relationship to make sure that we’re doing the jobs that people elected us to do.  And I cannot thank the President enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state.  And I heard it on the phone conversations with him, and I was able to witness it today personally.

And so we’re going to continue to work.  The state government is here.  We’re doing what we need to do.  We’re coordinating with FEMA, and I want to thank Administrator Fugate for being here and for the input he’s already had in helping to make our operation even better.  And we will move on from here.

What I said yesterday I really mean.  I know there has got to be sorrow, and you see that and the President has seen that today in the eyes -- the faces of a lot of the folks he’s met.  And that sorrow is appropriate; we’ve suffered some loss.  Luckily, we haven’t suffered that much loss of life and we thank God for that.  But we have suffered losses, and this is the worst storm that I’ve seen in my lifetime in this state.  But we cannot permit that sorrow to replace the resilience that I know all New Jerseyans have.  And so we will get up and we’ll get this thing rebuilt, and we’ll put things back together, because that’s what this state is all about and always has been all about.

And so for all of you who are here -- and I met a bunch of you today at Brigantine who disregarded my admonition -- (laughter) -- to get the hell out of here -- you’re forgiven this time.  You are forgiven this time, but not for much longer.  We’ve got to make sure when all of you look around and you see all this destruction, that’s fine -- but you know what, all that stuff can be replaced.  You look to your right and to your left, to your husband or wife, your son or your daughter -- those are the things that can’t be replaced.  So I’m glad that we don’t have that kind of loss of life to have to deal with.

So I want to thank him for being here today, for bringing his personal attention to it.  And it’s my honor to introduce to all of you the President of the United States.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Let me just make sure that I acknowledge the folks who are here, because they’ve played an important role in this.

First of all, your congressional delegation -- Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Congressman Frank LoBiondo, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, and Brigantine Mayor Philip Guenther.

Obviously, this is a federal, state, and local effort.  And the first thing I want to do is just to thank everybody who has been involved in the entire rescue and recovery process.  At the top of my list, I have to say that Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive; he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm.  And I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before.  So I just want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership.

I want to thank the congressional delegation because part of the reason we're going to be able to respond quickly to all this is because they helped to make sure that FEMA financing was in place, and we're very appreciative of those efforts.  And I want to thank Craig Fugate; sometimes people just think FEMA and they don’t think the people behind them, but Craig lives and breathes this stuff, making sure that we're providing the help that people so desperately need in these situations.

I want to thank all the first responders who have been involved in this process -- the linesmen, the firefighters, the folks who were in here shuttling out people who were supposed to “get the hell out” and didn’t.  You've helped to save a lot of lives and a lot of property.  And one of the things that you learn in these tragedies is, the first responders -- keep in mind their homes usually are underwater too, or their families have been affected in some way, and yet they make those personal sacrifices to help other people.  So we really appreciate them.

I'm just going to make a couple of comments.  Number one, and most important, our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones.  It's true that because of some good preparation, the loss of life was kept lower than it might have been, but for those individual families, obviously their world has been torn apart.  And we need to make sure that everybody who has lost a loved one knows they're in our thoughts and prayers -- and I speak for the whole country there.

For those like the people I just had the chance to meet on this block and throughout New Jersey and throughout the region whose lives have been upended, my second message is we are here for you, and we will not forget; we will follow up to make sure that you get all the help that you need until you've rebuilt.

At this point, our main focus is on the states of New Jersey, which got hit harder than anybody; the state of New York, particularly lower Manhattan and Long Island.  We are very concerned about some situations in Connecticut as well, and we're still monitoring West Virginia where there are heavy snows in some inaccessible areas.  But for the most part, those four states are really bearing the brunt of this incredible storm.

What we've been able to do is to pre-position and stage commodities -- water, power generators, ambulances in some cases, food, medical supplies, emergency supplies -- and we have over 2,000 FEMA personnel that are on the ground right now.  Their job, now that we're moving out of the search-and-rescue phase, is to make sure that they are going out and talking to individual communities so that people know exactly how they can get the help that they need.

We expedited our emergency declarations for the state of New Jersey and local counties that have been affected.  What that means is, is that people can immediately start registering for emergency assistance.  And one of the things I want to emphasize to the people of New Jersey and throughout the region:  Now that you're safe, your family is safe, but you're trying to figure out where you’re going to stay for the next couple of days, et cetera, it's very important that you know that there is help available to you right now, for example, to find rental housing or to be able to pay for some groceries.  Over at the community center we saw a young woman who had a newborn, or I guess probably an eight-month old, still needs diapers and formula, and has run out.  Those are the kinds of basic supplies and help that we can provide.

If you call 800-621-FEMA -- 800-621-FEMA -- or DisasterAssistance.gov -- if you've got access to the Internet, you can go to DisasterAssistance.gov.  What that allows you to do is to register right now so that you can immediately start receiving help.  We want to make sure that you get everything that you need.

Just a couple of final points.  Obviously, our biggest priority right now is getting power turned back on.  We were very pleased that Newark got power yesterday; Jersey City is getting power we believe today.  But there are still big chunks of the community, including this community right here, that don’t have power.  And so it's hard enough cleaning up debris and dealing with boats that have been upended and roads that are blocked; when people don’t have power, though, obviously they're disabled in all sorts of ways and it's hard to get back to normal.

So yesterday, I had a chance to speak to the CEOs of the utilities from all across the country.  And a lot of the states that were spared, that were not hard hit, or some states as far away as California, they have pledged to start getting equipment crews, et cetera, here into New Jersey and New York and Connecticut as quickly as possible.

And one of the things that we've been able to do -- just to give you a sense of how this is an all-hands-deck approach -- we're able to get C-17s and C-130s, military transport planes, potentially, to move assets, personnel to speed up the process of getting power up and running as soon as possible.

Our first priority is water filtration plants and some other critical infrastructure in the state; for that, we've got emergency generators.  We've got a Navy ship that has some helicopters that can help to move assets around the state as well.  And so we're going to be working with Governor Christie's office and local officials to identify what are those critical infrastructure, how can we get what's needed as quickly as possible.

Just a couple of other things that we're concerned about -- one is, as power starts coming back on, we want to make sure that people can also get to work.  Obviously, there are a lot of folks in Jersey who work in New York, in the city, and in other places where transportation may be hobbled.  One of the things I mentioned to the Governor is the possibility of us using federal assets, military assets, as well as taking inventory of assets from around the country that can be brought in so that we can help people get to their work.

And Governor Christie also mentioned the importance of schools.  The sooner we can get our kids back into school, the sooner they're back into a routine; that obviously helps the families and helps the kids as well.

So we're going to have a lot of work to do.  I don’t want anybody to feel that somehow this is all going to get cleaned up overnight.  We want to make sure that people have realistic expectations.

But what I can promise you is that the federal government will be working as closely as possible with the state and local officials, and we will not quit until this is done.  And the directive that I have given -- and I said this yesterday, but I will repeat; and I think Craig and others who are working with me right now know I mean it -- we are not going to tolerate red tape.  We're not going to tolerate bureaucracy.  And I've instituted a 15-minute rule, essentially, on my team:  You return everybody's phone calls in 15 minutes, whether it's the mayors’, the governors’, county officials’.  If they need something, we figure out a way to say yes.

As I was just gathering around, I had a chance to talk to some of the young people here who have been volunteering, going up and down the block cleaning up debris.  And when we were over at the community center, there was a restaurant owner who, for the last 18 hours, had been cooking meals, just as his contribution to the recovery process.  And some of the folks were saying the food was better than they got at home.  (Laughter.)  You had a 15-year-old young man whose mother was disabled, and he was making sure that she was okay, and taking on extraordinary responsibilities for himself but also for his mom.

And when you see folks like that respond with strength and resilience, when you see neighbors helping neighbors, then you're reminded about what America is all about.  We go through tough times, but we bounce back.  And the reason we bounce back is because we look out for one another and we don’t leave anybody behind.

And so my commitment to the people on this block, the people in this community, and the people of this state is that that same spirit will carry over all the way through until our work is done.  All right?

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.) 

                                      END                4:51 P.M. EDT
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Pool report 1 from the Brigantine Community Center:

Potus and Christie continued to speak with people at the community center in Brigantine. Pool was ushered out at 3:16 pm. Pool is now holding on the press bus for short motorcade ride to a nearby marina, which is also in Brigantine.

There was a brief applause as we were taken out. Not sure what it was for.

Full quotes from earlier.

Potus was speaking as the pool entered.

"I want to just let you know that your governor is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible everybody can get back to normal. Hopefully if your homes aren't too badly damaged we can get the power back on and get you back in. For those of you whose homes are damaged we've also got Director Fugate of FEMA and one of the things we're going to do is to activate and make sure you guys are getting the help you need as quickly as possible."

More Potus: "The main message I wanted to send is the entire country has been watching what's been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey's been hit."

A man yelled out: "Except my boss."

Potus: "Well, except your boss. If you need me to call, you let me know."

The room laughed.

Potus: "You guys are in my thoughts and prayers. We are going to be here for the long haul. Obviously, the top priority right now is to get the power back on. And as soon as we get power back on ... then obviously there is going to be some cleanup and there are going to be some expenses. Part of the way we set this up is the country comes for help because you never know when somebody is going to get hit by a disaster. I just want you to know that we're going to be here for the long haul. Director Fugate, he's been at this for a long time. He is the best that there is. He will make sure that, you know, he follows my directive which is, we're going to not tolerate any red tape. We're not going to tolerate any bureaucracy. We're going to make sure that we get the help to you as quickly as we can."

Potus turned to Christie and said, "Governor, do you want to add anything."

Christie spoke.

"I just want to tell all of you exactly what the president just said. I know he means it. We took a whole tour of the coast. He got a chance to see the destruction along the coast of New Jersey and we've been working with Director Fugate here to make sure that we need the things we need to get here. This state is working hard too, you know we're working hard. I want to thank the president for coming here today. It's really important to have the president of the United States acknoweldge all the suffering that's going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much. We're going to work together to make sure we get ourselves through this crisis and get everything back to normal. Thank you for coming, sir."

Christie and Potus then embarked on greeting the people in the room. Pool couldn't hear any of the conversations.

Pool did speak with the man who interjected for the president to call his boss. The man is Michael Henshaw, 32, of Brigantine. He works at an insurance company.

Henshaw said "Naa" when pool asked if he would take Potus up on his offer to call his boss.

"You can get a note, right?" asked Henshaw's girlfriend, Nicole Barber.

Pool was hustled away from the couple by WH handlers before we could find out more information about their situation. 

Co-pooler Kathleen Hennessey of the Tribune/DC bureau spoke with some other people in the center. Her report is below:

Robin Barrella, a 51-year-old cocktail waitress at Harrah's, came to the shelter two nights ago. She hasn't seen her house since the water was starting to come in on Tuesday.

"I'm almost afraid to see it," she said.

On the president she said: "If it wasn't for him ... Since he's been our president, things have gotten a little easier. I'm a single parent, I've had it hard. I get food stamps now. I lost my job I was able to get insurance for myself and my son. So I like him we're very excited."

Cheryl Howardell watched the president from a table at the back of the room. Howardell said she came to the center Thursday morning looking for hot coffee and somewhere to charge her phone.

She said she's lived on Brigantine since 1957 and never seen the water come up as high as it did this week. She saw waves crashing down her street.

"It was scary. I'll never stay again," she said.

Of the president's visit, she said: "It's wonderful I can't imagine that the president would come to our small island."

Howardell sat next to her brother, Tucker smith, a 70-year-old retired NYC firefighter.

"He's not just talking, he's here doing something," Smith said of the president.

Both said they plan to vote for the president next week.

Pool 2, from Brigantine Marina:

Motorcade began rolling from the community center at 4:06 p.m. Potus is going to take a tour of the Brigantine marina with Gov. Christie. Then he will deliver remarks which we are told by the TV pooler will air live on NBC (and probably other networks, choose your favorite). Pool will nonetheless supply highlights of them in subsequent reports.

En route there was a lot more sand on the roads. It looked like someone had come through with a plow and pushed it to the side. Sorta looked like snow the way it was piled up. We passed a hotel with its windows blown out. There was a house sitting on its side, 90 degrees from the way it should be.

Yet some houses still had the Halloween decorations in tact. And then there were piers broken in half or worse.

A handful of people waved as the motorcade passed.

Pool arrived at 4:15pm and is running to the marina.

Info from the WH:

Also here:

Governor Chris Christie
Senator Robert Menendez
Senator Frank Lautenberg
Representative Frank LoBiondo
Brigantine Mayor Philip Guenther
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson

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*Pool was Politico's Reid Epstein

*Photos by Pete Souza/White House