New Jersey is not usually the face of natural disasters. But it became just that on Sunday, when President Obama visited the state to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Irene.
Parts of northern and central New Jersey experienced severe flooding from Irene, which hit the area in the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 28. Passaic County was especially devastated, with flooding from nearby rivers reaching roofs and destroying many homes in towns like Wayne. The damage along the Eastern Seaboard could total $10 billion, according to The New York Times, and much of that is in New Jersey. Even a week later, thousands of residents remained without power.
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, said Rep. Steve Rothman, a Democrat who accompanied Obama on parts of his New Jersey tour.
President Obama, who declared the state a disaster zone last week, reiterated his promise of federal funding to rebuild, in spite of likely opposition from Republicans in Congress who are loath to authorize any new spending.
The entire country is behind you, Obama said during a visit to Paterson, the third largest city in New Jersey and one of the worst victims of flooding from the Passaic River. I know there's been some talk about whether there's going to be a slowdown in getting funding out here. We are going to make sure we provide all the resources that are necessary. As president of the United States, I want to make it very clear that we are going to meet our federal obligations.
Obama will not stand for Washington politics getting in the way, he added pointedly.
He had at least one high-profile Republican on his side. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been a vocal critic of the president on many issues, accompanied Obama around the state and actively praised his response to the storm.
Christie also broke from the tradition of many Republican governors who have, on various occasions, refused to accept federal aid for their states. All 21 counties in New Jersey have been approved for various forms of federal assistance, such as temporary housing and loans for small businesses, The Star-Ledger reported. Even before Irene hit and the extent of the flooding was known, he told reporters that he had been in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, to ask for help.
New Jersey has not been hit this hard by a hurricane since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which weakened to a tropical storm before hitting the state but still caused extensive flooding in towns like Bound Brook and Manville.