President Barack Obama toured the Sandy-wrecked Jersey Shore Wednesday, promising victims that the federal government would "be here for the long haul" to help the region dig out and recover.
"We are here for you and we will not forget," Obama said. "We will follow up to make sure you get all the help you need to rebuild."
- If your property suffered damage from Sandy, you can already contact FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA of DisasterAssistance.Gov
Accompanying the president on his afternoon tour of the coast was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has been one of the president's sharpest critics.
But Christie isn't a critic this week. He has praised Obama, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for their response to the widespread destruction in New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy.
Millions remain without power, hundreds remained stuck in waterlogged coastal communities, and countless have lost their homes. The storm was responsible for a dozen deaths in New Jersey.
After spending the last couple days overseeing the federal government's response from Washington D.C., Obama chose to visit the Garden State because it, along with New York, suffered the worst of Sandy's destruction, aides said.
At an evacuation shelter in Brigantine, Christie stressed how important it was to have the president "acknowledge all the suffering that's going on here in New Jersey."
"We're going to work together to make sure we get ourselves through this crisis and get everything back to normal," Christie said.
Obama's visit began in Atlantic City, which lies on a barrier island and was cut off from the mainland during the storm. He greeted Christie, and together, along with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, they took a ride up the coast in the presidential helicopter, Marine One.
They flew north to Point Pleasant Beach, looking down upon sand-blown neighborhoods, wrecked homes and waterlogged streets.
In Seaside Heights, one of the hardest-hit towns, many houses were flattened, roads remained submerged, the boardwalk was gone and an amusement pier had washed into the ocean.
A fire, still smoldering, appeared to have destroyed eight homes. A broken bridge to the mainland was filled with cars.
There were also modest signs of recuperation, with a small number of tractors clearing debris and cars inching through watery blocks.
In Point Pleasant, the helicopter flew over a beach where someone had scrawled "ROMNEY" in the sand.
Brick Township posted this aerial footage of the damage left behind by Sandy.
The chopper ride lasted about an hour, after which they returned to Atlantic City International Airport and got into Obama's black SUV. They headed to Brigantine to speak with victims and talk about the rescue and recovery effort.
Obama and Christie stopped at the Brigantine Beach Community Center, which is serving as an evacuation shelter. About 50 people are still spending nights there, with many more arriving during the day to eat, charge phones and take showers. The president and governor spent a few minutes listening to their stories.
"The main message I wanted to send is the entire country has been watching what's been happening," Obama told the evacuees. "Everybody knows now hard Jersey's been hit."
He went on: "You guys are in my thoughts and prayers. We are going to be here for the long haul."
Obama said his top priorities were to help get power restored and for the government to make sure people had what they needed not only to survive, but also to return to work and school.
"We're not going to 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."
The president praised Christie for putting "his heart and soul into making sure the people of New Jersey bounce back stronger than before."
Christie, in turn, said he and the president had "a great working relationship," and thanked Obama "for his concern and his compassion for the people of our state."
After leaving the shelter, Obama, Christie and other public officials walked a narrow street where Brigantine residents were assessing damage to their homes. Many stopped to greet him. "Hang in there, guys," Obama said at one point.
One woman, Donna Vanzant, cried as she thanked and embraced the president.
"I want her to know that we're going to immediately give her the help she needs," Obama said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on the flight from Washington D.C. to Atlantic City that he saw no issue with the president taking a public tour of the shore with a leading Republican less than a week before Election Day.
"This is not a time for politics," Carney said.
Carney also said that the president chose to visit New Jersey instead of New York City, which has also suffered profound damage, and that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed.
"It was the assessment by both the White House and Mayor Bloomberg that because of the unique nature of the damage to Lower Manhattan and the resources that need to be brought to bear that it was not appropriate for president to visit Manhattan today," Carney said.
Brigantine residents said they appreciated that Obama had picked their town to visit.
"I think it's good for him to show his face here and be concerned about our community and the whole South Jersey," Dana Luciano said.
"Whatever he can do to help us, that would be great," added Judi Portello. "Right now, all I can saw is we need power, man."
As recovery continued up and down the coast, Christie denied requests by leaders in Stone Harbor, Avalon and the Wildwoods to allow access to their islands. Christie said Cape May County barrier islands would remain closed as a State of Emergency remained in effect statewide.