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Obama Vows To Restore Power, Help Residents In New Jersey

Gov. Christie Applauds President For Making New Jersey 'His Top Priority'
President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon arriving in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012 to visit areas hardest hit by Sandy. (Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon arriving in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012 to visit areas hardest hit by Sandy. (Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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Superstorm Sandy

BRIGANTINE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Governor Chris Christie addressed the media Wednesday evening, a few hours after meeting with President Barack Obama and reiterated that getting the power back on is of the utmost urgency. However, Christie said it will continue to be a slow process due to the sheer scale of damage.

“I’m asking for patience from New Jerseyans this week, because I don’t have much,” Christie said.

The governor said his job is to get things done on behalf of the citizens of the state as quickly as possible. Christie said that effort will help bring relief to residents as quickly as possible.

Christie said that in between site visits, President Obama was on the phone getting resources in place to assist the state, which tragically had 14 deaths as a result of Sandy.

“You should not be hopeless. You shouldn’t feel like you are alone,” Christie said.

“Good news for all of us is that the president couldn’t have been better today,” the governor added. “He wanted to make sure that there was nothing that we asked for that we didn’t get,” including defense equipment. “He made it very clear to me today that getting New Jersey back to normal is his top priority, and it’s my top priority, too. We had a good day.”

Christie also announced he signed an executive order mandating state-wide water restrictions. He urged residents to use “common sense” water limits in their own homes, such as turning of the faucets when not in use and taking shorter showers.

President Obama and Gov. Christie went on an hour-long aerial tour of New Jersey hurricane damage Wednesday afternoon aboard Obama’s Marine One helicopter.

Obama flew to New Jersey for a first-hand look at the devastation from the storm. Christie was on hand to greet Air Force One in Atlantic City. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate then joined them aboard Marine One for a look at the storm damage, along with U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)

Speaking in the South Jersey Shore community of Brigantine, President Obama said no one would be left behind.

“We are here for you, and we will not forget. We will follow up to make sure that you get all the help you need until you have been rebuilt,” Obama said during a news conference.

SUPERSTORM SANDY: Outages | Disaster Assistance | Submit Your Pictures | Sandy In Photos | Viewer PicsVideos

Obama said FEMA has expedited the process of delivering aid, so that people may begin registering for emergency assistance right away. Anyone in need of assistance for finding rental housing, buying groceries or other basic needs may call (800) 621-FEMA or go to disasterassistance.gov.

Some 2,000 FEMA personnel were on the ground already Wednesday, Obama said.

The biggest priority, Obama said, will be restoring power.

“It’s hard enough cleaning up debris and dealing with boats that have been upended and roads that have been blocked. When people don’t have power, they’re disabled in all sorts of ways, and they want to get back to normal,” Obama said.

To speed up that process, crews from many states that were not hit hard by Sandy, and also from states as far away as California, were to be flown in. C-17 and C-130 military aircraft were expected to be dispatched to move and assist out-of-state personnel to help get power back on.

A Navy ship with helicopters was also dispatched to move assets around the state to restore power, Obama said.

The first priority will be crucial facilities such as water filtration plants, for which emergency generators have been distributed, Obama said.

The president reiterated that dawdling and delays are not acceptable when it comes to emergency response.

“We’re not going to tolerate red tape. We’re not going to tolerate bureaucracy, and I’ve instituted a 15-minute rule, essentially, on my staff. You return everybody’s phone calls within 15 minutes,” Obama said.

Christie said he had already spoken with the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia, who all pledged utility crews to New Jersey. South Carolina had already dispatched 185 utility workers, he said.

Christie also urged New Jersey residents to get in contact with FEMA themselves, and reiterated Obama’s point that people can apply for aid now.

“You should not be hopeless,” Christie said. “You should not feel like you’re alone.”

Work was also underway to clean up the roads and make them passable again, Christie said.

But the longest phase will be that of rebuilding the many areas that were ravaged and destroyed by Sandy, particularly along the Jersey Shore. Still, Christie emphasized that New Jerseyans can, and will, do it.

Christie said he asked for help from the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild, and that abandoning the Jersey Shore was not an option.

“I don’t believe, when the Jersey Shore is such as part of this state, that you just pick up and walk away,” he said. “That’s would not be my position.”

At the news conference, many reporters addressed the elephant in the room – that the conservative Republican Christie was working so closely with Obama when the governor was campaigning for opponent Mitt Romney in an election less than a week away.

Christie said in times of crisis, politics are irrelevant.

“I don’t care,” he said. “The president and I were discussing this the other day — when you have the responsibility that I have, it’s much bigger than politics.”

LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Sean Adams With Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty

But politics aside, Christie has warned repeatedly that the recovery would be a long one. New Jersey got the brunt of the storm and some parts of the shore might never look the same, he said.

“It won’t be the same because some of the iconic things are washed into the ocean,” Christie said Tuesday, hours after he’d toured the shore by helicopter and became emotional about seeing the haunts of his youth destroyed.

In Spring Lake, all that remains of the two-mile-long boardwalk are concrete pilings, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported. But locals said the state will rebuild.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports from Spring Lake

“I think Christie said it yesterday, it’s going to show the resolve. But the thing is, the beach and the shore that we know, that we grew up with is gone. It’s gone,” Wall Township resident Dave Frick told Diamond.

“It’s just unreal. We live a couple of miles away and we watched it on TV but when you’re here it’s just so different and it’s gone. It’s not here anymore,” Susan Frick said through tears.

Another Jersey Shore homeowner said she was happy to see President Obama visit the Garden State and offer assistance in the recovery effort.

“There’s a lot of people that need help so keep us in mind. Don’t forget about us after the election,” a Point Pleasant homeowner told Diamond.

155010804 Obama Vows To Restore Power, Help Residents In New Jersey

Firefighter Chris Vliet walks away from a beach front home damaged by Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012 in Ocean City, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On Wednesday evening, Christie said the power outage situation had improved since the height of Sandy.

Over 1.5 million homes and businesses remained without electricity three days after Sandy pounded New Jersey.

As of Wednesday night, 882,000 PSE&G customers were without power.  Over 930,000 JCP&L customers were also without power.

Trees and power lines were down in every corner of the state. Schools and state government offices were closed for a second day — and many were calling off classes for Thursday, too.

There was also major damage on all New Jersey rail lines, Christie said.

“Large sections of track were washed out on the Jersey coastline,” Christie said. “Numerous power lines and trees have fallen across NJ TRANSIT rail ways across the state.

About 80 percent of NJ TRANSIT buses will  begin running Thursday.

Stations in Jersey City and Hoboken were flooded by the storm surge. Christie said the PATH trains will be out of service at least seven to 10 days.

Newark Liberty International Airport opened at 7 a.m. Wednesday, but carriers provided only limited service.

1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten Reports From Newark Airport

The New Jersey National Guard came to Hoboken Tuesday night to help residents of the heavily flooded city on the Hudson River. Mayor Dawn Zimmer had asked for the Guard’s help late Monday, saying thousands of residents were stuck in their homes.

155028703 Obama Vows To Restore Power, Help Residents In New Jersey

An ambulance sits abandoned in the middle of a flooded street after Hurricane Sandy October 30, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

“We will make it through this together,” Zimmer said. “All our emergency personnel and volunteers have been working so hard under the most extreme circumstances to keep our community safe.”

Surprise coastal surge battered Moonachie, Little Ferry and some other towns along the Hackensack River in Bergen County, all areas unaccustomed to flooding.

In Moonachie, police Sgt. Tom Schmidt said water rose to 5 feet within 45 minutes, making roads impassable and cutting off residents who thought the worst from the superstorm was over.

Rutgers University called off classes for the rest of the week on its New Brunswick and Newark campuses.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)