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President Obama Visits Staten Island to See Hurricane Sandy Damage

By  Aidan Gardiner and Jill Colvin | November 15, 2012 8:05am | Updated on November 15, 2012 2:57pm

NEW YORK CITY — President Barack Obama toured the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on New York City on Thursday, and vowed to help the still-struggling city rebuild.

A week after his re-election, the president tried to offer comfort to families recovering from the storm and thanked first-responders who risked their lives as Sandy battered the East Coast.

“I'm very proud of you, New York. You guys are tough. You bounce back, just as America always bounces back. The same is going to be true this time out, alright?" he told reporters in Staten Island, after touring damaged homes and churches and embracing residents.

The president arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport at 11:30 a.m., and then boarded the Marine One helicopter and headed to the Rockaways, where he surveyed the damage in the badly battered Breezy Point, where more than 80 houses burned to the ground in the storm.

He then traveled to Staten Island, touching down at Miller Army Air Field near ravaged New Dorp Beach, where the president, dressed in a navy blue coat and brown khakis, thanked volunteers who've been helping with recovery efforts at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, which has been handing out food, water and other supplies.

"You guys are doing great work," he told one relief worker, before posing for a picture inside a Small Business Administration tent at the site, where he and other elected officials were greeted by a loud crowd of about 100 local residents who burst into cheers when Obama arrived.

"God bless you," he told them in return.

After leaving the tents at the air field, the president made his way to Cedar Grove Avenue and Center Place, where he walked along streets lined with mud and stopped to talk with residents in front of homes that had been ripped apart or caved in by the storm.

"We've got some work to do and I want you to know I'm here to do it," he told another small group gathered in front of a boarded-up brick church, St. George Malankara Orthodox Church of India.

In a brief speech after the visit, Obama recognized that many in the region remain without electricity, heat and hot water, and also vowed to help the city rebuild.

“I came up here right after the storm... and I promised everybody that I was speaking on behalf of the country when I said we are going to be here until the rebuilding is complete. And I meant it,” he said.

The president also met privately with Damien and Glenda Moore, whose two young children, Brandon and Connor, died after being swept out of their mother's arms during the storm.

“I had the opportunity to give some hugs and communicate thoughts and prayers to the Moore family," he said. "Obviously I expressed to them, as a father, as a parent, my heartbreak over what they went through."

Obama told reporters that the distraught parents had come there, in part, "because they wanted to say thank you to all the people who have been supportive of them," including one police officer, Lt. Kevin Gallagher, who had stayed with them as rescue workers struggled to find their boys.

"That spirit and sense of togetherness and looking out for one another, that's what's going to carry us through this tragedy," he said.

The president was joined for the tour by a host of local officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, all of whom he commended for their work.

The majority of residents in the area seemed eager to meet the president, shouting "We love you!" and calling his name. But not everyone was pleased with the visit.

"He should of been here a long time ago," said one woman whose home was destroyed by the storm and had visited the open FEMA center to pick up supplies.

Others used the opportunity to ask the president for help.

"We just want our houses fixed. We just need help," said Al Bevacqua, of New Dorp, who had the chance to speak with Obama, and blamed insurance companies for holding up recovery efforts.

"The community's been off the charts. Government's been doing what they can... but the insurance companies just keep people on hold," he said.

The visit was the president's second to the tri-state area following Hurricane Sandy. On Oct. 31, he and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie toured hard-hit areas of that state. 

Bloomberg initially told the president not to come to New York on the Oct. 31 visit as the city struggled to recover. 

With pool reports