Obama Thanks First Responders, Agencies for Sandy Response

President Barack Obama hugs Donna Vanzant, the owner of North Point Marina, as he tours damage from Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, NJ, Oct. 31, 2012

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Washington, DC – President Barack Obama this weekend (Nov. 3-4) thanked and praised first responders, volunteers and members of federal and nongovernment agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, the National Guard and the US Coast Guard, for their efforts in aiding citizens living along the Eastern Seaboard who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

“This weekend, millions of our fellow Americans are still picking up the pieces from one of the worst storms in our history,” Obama said in his weekly video address to the nation. “I toured New Jersey on Wednesday with Governor Christie, and witnessed some of the terrible devastation firsthand.”

“It’s heartbreaking. Families have lost loved ones. Entire communities have been wiped away,” the president continued. “Even some of the first responders who repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way to bravely save the lives of others have suffered losses of their own. Today, I ask everyone to keep them in your prayers.”

The Category 1 superstorm had marched north off the US East Coast until making landfall Oct. 29 near Atlantic City, NJ Sandy is responsible for more than 100 deaths nationally. The storm devastated oceanside areas in New York and New Jersey and other coastal communities along the Eastern Seaboard and the storm knocked out power for millions of residents — paralyzing New York City and much of the surrounding area.

The president called upon all federal agencies to lean-forward to help impacted communities during Hurricane Sandy response and recovery efforts led by FEMA. The Department of Defense has been mobilized to support Sandy response and recovery efforts. Nearly 7,400 Army and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen in nine eastern states are performing communications, engineering, evacuation, medical, security, search and rescue, sheltering, debris removal and transportation missions.

In his address, Obama vowed to storm-stricken citizens: “Your country will be there for you for as long as it takes to recover and rebuild.” The president noted that throughout the week he’s been “in constant contact with governors and mayors in the affected areas, who are doing an excellent job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”

Obama also praised the efforts of firefighters, police and other emergency workers, noting, “We owe the first responders and National Guardsmen who have been working around the clock our deepest gratitude.”

The No. 1 concern in Sandy’s aftermath “has been making sure that affected states and communities have everything they need to respond to and recover from this storm,” Obama said.

“From the earliest hours, I ordered that resources be made available to states in the path of the storm as soon as they needed them,” the president said. “And I instructed my team not to let red tape and bureaucracy get in the way of solving problems — especially when it came to making sure local utilities could restore power as quickly as possible.”

Before the storm hit, Obama said, FEMA had pre-staged emergency response teams from North Carolina to Maine, and deployed food, water, and generators up and down the coast.

“As the storm passed, thousands of FEMA personnel were on the ground responding to those in need,” Obama said. “And by midweek, the Department of Defense was ready to fly in cargo planes that could be loaded with trucks and equipment to help local power companies get up and running faster.”

Twelve C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft had arrived at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY, on Nov. 2 to deliver power restoration trucks, equipment and passengers requested by FEMA, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters that day, noting that Southern California Edison sent the trucks and equipment out of March Air Reserve Base, Calif., the day before. Another airlift mission set to bring similar equipment from Phoenix to New York was slated for that evening.

Recovery from the storm will be a long, hard road for many communities, Obama said today.

“There’s a lot of work ahead. If you’ve been directly impacted by this storm and need temporary assistance getting back on your feet, you can call 1-800-621-FEMA, or apply at DisasterAssistance.gov.,” the president said. “If you know folks who are still without power, please spread the word and let them know.”

“And if you don’t live in an affected area and want to help, supporting the Red Cross is the best and fastest way,” he added.

The United States and its citizens “have been humbled by nature’s destructive power,” the president said.

“But we’ve been inspired as well. For when the storm was darkest, the heroism of our fellow citizens shone brightest,” Obama said.

The president pointed to “the nurses and doctors at NYU Medical Center who evacuated fragile newborns, carrying some down several flights of stairs.”

Obama also highlighted:

— Firefighters in Queens “who battled an inferno from flooded streets, and rescued people from an apartment building by boat.”

— Coast Guard members who saved 14 people from the sinking HMS Bounty tall ship in stormy seas off the North Carolina coast. Their rescue swimmer who, when he reached those in need, said, “I’m Dan, and I hear you guys need a ride.”

Such unselfish acts depict “who we are” as a nation, the president said.

“We’re Americans. When times are tough, we’re tougher. We put others first. We go that extra mile. We open our hearts and our homes to one another, as one American family,” Obama said. “We recover, we rebuild, we come back stronger — and together we will do that once more. Thanks, God bless you, and God bless America.”

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