The sign said it all: "Help us.''
That was the message that greeted President Barack Obama as he arrived in New Jersey for an up-close look at the damage Hurricane Irene left behind.
While he spent under three hours in the state, the visit was enthusiastically received, as the president pledged the government's help in the state's recovery.
Imani Ross, 13, Bria Johnson and Tyshira Evans, both 14, waited excitedly to meet the president as he moved up a line of people at a Lowe's home improvement store, which had set up a Road to
Recovery center to provide supplies, medical screening and other support to those affected by Irene.
"It shows he really cares," Johnson said of his visit.
The trip to Lowe's was Obama's last stop on a trip that also began in Wayne, at Fayette Street and Faster Avenue, which earlier in the week could only be traversed by boat.
"I am so grateful that the president came to northern New Jersey to witness firsthand the suffering of our people and that he pledged immediate federal relief,'' said U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman,
who accompanied Obama.
In Wayne, Obama walked past open garages and piles of water-logged debris that littered the curbs, stopping at about eight homes.
"I'm so sorry. We'll be here to help,'' Obama told one woman.
From Wayne, he traveled to the Temple Street Bridge in downtown Paterson, the state's third-largest city, where more than 100 people had to be rescued from their homes, many in inflatable
The debris and high watermarks could still be seen along the bridge and on neighboring properties where the president stopped.
"We are going to make sure that the resources are here,'' he told thousands of cheering residents lining Main Street in Paterson, which was evacuated as the Passaic River crested on Sunday at 14 feet, twice its flood stage.
Gov. Chris Christie has given high praise to the president for the way federal authorities have responded to the storm. Obama returned the compliment Sunday, saying the "extraordinary
responsiveness and far-sighted thinking'' of state and local officials helped to avert a worse tragedy and greater loss of life.
Besides Christie, Obama was joined by FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, Reps. Bill Pascrell and Rothman, the head of the Red Cross and the mayors of Wayne and Paterson.
The visit marks the sixth time Obama has come to New Jersey since being elected.
As the president departed, it was announced that all of the state's 21 counties were declared major disaster areas, allowing those not eligible for insurance coverage to receive federal
funding for repairs and temporary housing.
"New Jersey has had a terrible experience, one that is just as worthy of federal disaster relief as the forest fires in West, the droughts in the Midwest or tornadoes in the South,'' Rothman said afterward.
"New Jersey needs the help now and without delay.''
Copyright Associated Press