- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BRIGANTINE, N.J. — Giant cities and small neighborhoods across the eastern half of the country took stock, mourned their losses and began the first tentative efforts to restore normalcy Wednesday as the death toll from superstorm Sandy rose to more than 70 and the economic losses were being reckoned in the tens of billions of dollars.

On a cold, sunny day, National Guardsmen in New Jersey rushed to rescue flood victims and extinguish electrical fires ignited by the brutal storm, while across the river, New York City’s flooded subway system remained closed — parts were due to resume service Thursday — even as the region’s two main airports restarted service and the New York Stock Exchange resumed trading for the first time since Friday. The two states suffered the worst of the damage from Sandy, but clean-up, repair and rescue efforts were springing into action in 17 states ranging from North Carolina to Maine and as far inland as Kentucky and Michigan.

In a meeting fraught with political implications just days before the presidential election, President Obama and Republican Gov. Chris Christie set aside partisan divisions and spent Wednesday afternoon touring the storm-ravaged areas along the New Jersey shore to assess the devastation Sandy left behind.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie spent the afternoon on an hourlong aerial tour of the coastal towns hardest hit by the storm. Federal Emergency Management Administration Director Craig Fugate accompanied them.

Afterward, the Democratic president and the Republican governor addressed a community center-turned-storm shelter on this island near Atlantic City, N.J., giving each other high marks for their work on behalf of those most affected.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greets President Obama in Atlantic City on ... more >

Underscoring the president’s promise, Mr. Christie thanked Mr. Obama for coming to New Jersey to assess the damage himself and said they would continue to work together to help storm victims rebuild their lives, homes and businesses.

“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,” he said.

The president’s helicopter tour of the damage spanned Atlantic City to Point Pleasant Beach, and the wreckage in view included demolished boardwalks, flattened and flooded homes, and a carnival and large pier “that look like the storm took giant bites out of the ends of them” in Seaside Heights, according to a White House reporter’s pool report.

Even though Mr. Christie is a top surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, he has heaped praise on the president for expediting the federal government’s response and assistance to states that suffered the greatest damage.

Mr. Christie, who announced later in the day he was postponing the state’s Halloween festivities until Monday, was the sole person greeting Mr. Obama when Air Force One landed in Atlantic City on Wednesday afternoon, and the two clasped hands and talked earnestly as Mr. Obama placed a hand on the governor’s shoulder.

Hospitals hit

Before leaving Washington bound for New Jersey, the president stopped by FEMA headquarters Wednesday morning. During a briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano said that about 280 large power generators for hospitals and nursing homes have been deployed to areas affected by the storm, to supplement about 250 generators already in place.

On Monday night, New York University’s Langone Medical Center lost back-up power, forcing an emergency evacuation more than 200 patients during a blackout. Mr. Obama spoke to the doctors and nurses at Langone by telephone to thank them for their efforts.

Hitting squarely in the most densely populated region of the country, Sandy’s impact was felt in wide variety of ways:

• About 60 million people were initially without power in 8.2 million homes and businesses. By Wednesday night, that number had fallen to roughly 44 million people in 6 million households and businesses. But even as power slowly returned to some pockets, a new headache emerged: Back-up batteries and generators running cellphone towers were running out of juice, with one out of every five towers down, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Story Continues →