Obama Vows Federal Help for Irene Victims

Liana Teixeira

President Barack Obama walks with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Fayette Avenue in Wayne, N.J., Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011, as he visits flood damage caused by Hurricane Irene. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

During a trip to north New Jersey on Sunday, President Barack Obama toured several of the most flood-stricken areas affected by Hurricane Irene.  The president urged “Republicans not to play

politics with federal disaster aid,” reported Reuters.com.  The city of Paterson, New Jersey was hammered by the storm that hit the East Coast.  Floodwaters destroyed homes and bridges, and roads became overflowed by the raging river waters beneath them. Thousands lost electricity.

The residents of Paterson greeted Obama upon arrival. The New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a fiscal conservative who typically supports federal budget cuts, has urged Washington to financially assist his state in the recovery process. “We are going to meet our federal obligations,” Obama asserted while standing on a bridge overlooking the flooded Passaic River.  “The last thing that residents…need is Washington politics getting in the way of making sure we’re doing what we can.” Obama expressed similar condolences to the citizens of Wayne, New Jersey, a poor community that Obama visited prior to addressing the people of Paterson.

Irene’s destruction encompassed an overwhelming portion of the east, cutting through areas of North Carolina and Vermont where at least 40 deaths were confirmed.  An estimated $10 billion dollars in economic losses has also been reported.

On Wednesday, Obama declared New Jersey a disaster area; this makes the state eligible for federal aid, assistance that people like Gov. Christie would find most necessary to repair an injured community. According to Reuters.com, the two men cordially shook hands when the president descended from Air Force One.  “Christie has been a blunt critic of the president in the past. But he has had nothing but praise for the president in recent days, complimenting his administration’s focused response to the storm,” reports the New York Times. Christie parted with Republican leaders by insisting that federal aid should be allocated to the proper Irene-affected areas despite the GOP’s call for spending cuts.  The congressional divide between Republicans and Democrats, however, may prove to be a significant obstacle in the pursuit of relief efforts.

“When disaster strikes, Americans suffer—not Republicans, not Democrats, not Independents—and we come together,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney to reporters.  As of now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has postponed the funding from previous disaster-relief efforts to ensure that money will still be available for Hurricane Irene victims. The White House and President Obama are unwilling to adopt the lax attitude of former President George W. Bush’s administration toward Hurricane Katrina.