President Barack Obama got a look Thursday at the devastation that Sandy waged on New York City, flying over flood-ravaged Queens before landing in Staten Island to meet storm victims who lost homes and loved ones.
Two and a half weeks after the superstorm displaced New Yorkers, thousands of whom remain without power, Obama took an aerial tour that included Breezy Point, where roughly 100 homes were burned in a massive fire. Below Marine One, blue tarps covered some homes instead of roofs and debris was scattered across neighborhoods still drying out after the storm.
Obama noted that he said in the days after Sandy hit that the federal government would not forget the region and would see the recovery through.
"I'm going to be coming back in the future to make sure that we have followed through on that commitment," Obama said.
"You guys are tough, you bounce back just as America bounces back," he added later. "The same is going to be true this time out."
Obama met with people waiting in line at an emergency response center at Staten Island's New Dorp High School, where FEMA, Small Business Administration, IRS, Red Cross and city agencies have tents to help survivors. The White House said about 1,500 people had received services at the center, one of several in affected areas, as of Monday.
He also met with Damien and Glenda Moore, whose young boys, Brandon and Connor, died after they were swept away from their mother by a storm surge.
"I expressed to them as a father, as a parent, my heartbreak over what they went through," Obama said.
He then went on a walking tour in a hard-hit area of Staten Island, stopping to talk with residents along a street where some homes are off their foundations.
Staten Island resident Anthony Gatti, standing in front of his wrecked home, said he's grateful for the president's visit but wished it had happened sooner.
"I think it's about time he gets here," said Gatti, who was hoping to get a FEMA trailer to live in with his parents while they all find a new place to live. "I think he should've been here a few days ago to see how much devastation we've had here."
Obama was joined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
The president announced he has appointed Donovan, who was Bloomberg's housing commissioner before becoming HUD secretary in 2009, to be the point person on the region's redevelopment plans.
Cuomo said earlier this week he plans to request $30 billion in federal aid to rebuild, including for improvements such as the construction of a power grid meant to buttress utilities' ability to find and fix outages. It would also upgrade New York City's fuel supply capacity to help prevent consumer shortages and bring new oil and gas pipelines from New England to reduce dependence on shipping the fuel. Long lines at gas stations led to alternate-day rationing in both New York and New Jersey after the storm.
"You were there for New York, you were there for us, and we thank you Mr. President," Cuomo said Thursday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration still hasn't received details of that request so he couldn't respond to it specifically. He said the federal government will continue to do everything it can to cut red tape and help affected communities rebuild.
Obama traveled to New Jersey on Oct. 31 to meet with Gov. Chris Christie and view recovery efforts in coastal communities. He viewed flattened houses, flooded neighborhoods, sand-strewn streets and a still-burning fire along the state's battered coastline. Parts of the New Jersey shore's famed boardwalks were missing.
The White House said the president didn't visit New York then because he did not want to interfere with recovery efforts.