Up-to-the-minute reporting as Sandy continues its trajectory towards the East Coast of the US.
Barack Obama, the US president, is paying a visit to the state of New Jersey to see the damage done by superstorm Sandy, as the East Coast picks up the pieces in the wake of widespread destruction.
“Obama has won this news cycle and conversation by putting the lives of American people ahead of politics“
– Edward Wyckoff Williams,
Obama joined New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and other officials to inspect damage from the massive storm that struck the East Coast. He saw flooded neighbourhoods and sand-strewn streets during a tour that came less than a week before election day.
The president told people recovering from Sandy’s devastation along New Jersey’s coastline that “we are here for you, and we will not forget”.
Obama, who visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters earlier in the day, said the federal government is “here for the long haul”.
Christie, a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said he “can’t thank the president enough” for his concern and compassion during the storm.
Sandy killed at last 18 people in New York, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while at least 64 storm-related deaths were reported nationwide to date.
Accompanied by the federal government’s emergency relief director Craig Fugate, Obama appeared to re-start campaigning he said he had put off until Thursday ahead of Tuesday’s national vote.
Christie has been effusive in his praise of Obama’s handling of the devastating storm, raising eyebrows in his own party.
Al Jazeera’s John Terrett, reporting from Egg Harbor in New Jersey, said: “[Christie] is basically a Republican attack dog, they used him in the Tampa convention to go after Obama.”
“It’s an extraordinary situation [that he is praising the Democrat candidate],” he said, noting speculation that Christie may be considering his own presidential bid in the next election.
The governor greeted the president at the steps of Air Force One after his short flight from Washington and the two men boarded Obama’s Marine One helicopter for an aerial tour of the disaster area.
Obama left the campaign trail on Monday to return to Washington to manage the federal relief effort.
Romney, who had also mostly suspended campaigning out of sensitivity to storm victims, was back stumping for voters, in Florida, on Wednesday, albeit on a muted level.
“Please, if you have an extra dollar or two, please, send them along and keep the people who have been in harm’s way … in your thoughts and prayers,” he told about 2,000 people in a Florida airport hangar, as American Red Cross donation messages flashed on large video screens.
“We come together in times like this, and we want to make sure they have a speedy and quick recovery from their financial and, in many cases personal, loss,” Romney added.
Edward Wyckoff Williams, a political analyst in Washington DC, told Al Jazeera that Romney is unable to match Obama’s presidential imagery as commander in a crisis.
“Obama has won this news cycle and conversation by putting the lives of American people ahead of politics,” he told Al Jazeera. “Romney has shown himself to be a joke by playing politics until the end.”
The visit by Obama to FEMA was his second visit in four days. He told reporters on Sunday that the government would “respond big and respond fast” after the massive storm made landfall.
Only last year, as Romney tacked to the right while battling for his party’s nomination, he appeared to suggest in a debate that the FEMA should be shut down and its responsibilities left to the states.
Now, a week before election day, in the wake of a massive disaster, Romney’s campaign is reassuring voters that his administration would not leave disaster victims in the lurch.
A spokesperson for Romney’s campaign, Amanda Henneberg, promised that “a Romney-Ryan [the Republican vice presidential candidate] administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period”.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said limited subway service would begin on Thursday, four days after shutting down ahead of the arrival of Sandy, the storm that brought unprecedented flooding to the world’s
Limited service on suburban commuter rail lines serving Long Island to the east and Westchester County and Connecticut to the north will resume on Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Power outages remained a problem for millions of people. New York’s Bellevue hospital, which has been operating on backup generators since the storm, evacuated some 500 patients on Wednesady afternoon. The hospital has one of the busiest emergency departments in the city.
“We learned this morning that Bellevue will now have to evacuate because of damage that it has sustained,” Bloomberg said.
A handful of other hospitals, including New York University’s hospital, had already been forced to evacuate.
Fuel supplies on the East Coast showed signs of improving on Wednesday as power was restored to a key energy hub in New Jersey, although a key pipeline may remain out of service until Friday.
The second-largest refinery was unable to say when it might resume production.
Phillips 66 confirmed it had restored power to its 238,000-barrel-per-day Bayway refinery in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge caused “some” flooding at the plant and cut its power.
But executives provided no damage assessment or time frame for resuming output.
“There was some flooding in low lying areas of the refinery but flood waters have since receded and as of this morning power has been restored at Bayway,” Phillips 66’s chief financial officer Greg Maxwell said on a call with analysts.
In New York, the stock exchange opened on Wednesday morning, Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler reported.
US declares ‘major disaster’ in New York
“It’s not going to happen overnight. In some cases, it might take several weeks,” he said from New York, noting ongoing problems with the buses and subway system.
Political analyst Edward Wyckoff Williams told Al Jazeera that the storm is likely to have an impact on the election.
“Turnout is very critical in the state of Pennsylvania and Michigan,” he added.
Extreme weather conditions in those states could prevent some voters on election day, Williams said, but early voting could help balance the difference in Obama’s favour.
In the state of West Virginia, a legislative candidate was reported killed, the third casualty in accidents related to weather from superstorm Sandy.
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Ayse Alibeyoglu contributed reporting from Washington.