WASHINGTON -- A day after Hurricane Sandy decimated parts of the East Coast, President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the Red Cross and delivered a message to the public: "This storm is not yet over."
Obama said Tuesday that while Sandy may have already torn through most of New England, it is still heading north and more communities stand to be hurt by high winds and downed power lines.
"It's very important for the public to ... listen to your state and local officials. Follow instructions," he said at Red Cross headquarters in Washington, surrounded by Red Cross staffers who stood at their desks and snapped pictures. "The more you follow instructions, the easier it is for our first responders."
During his brief remarks -- his first since Sandy hit -- the president described the "extraordinary hardship" felt by people over the last 24 hours, particularly in New Jersey and New York, where entire coastal regions were flooded. "My thoughts and prayers are with all the families who lost loved ones," he said. "It's not clear that we have counted up all of the fatalities at this point. Obviously this is something that is heartbreaking for the entire nation."
Still, he praised the "outstanding" coordination between local, state and federal governments in the lead-up to the storm. Their preparations resulted in more than 1,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency officials being on the ground with supplies, food, medicine and emergency generators ahead of the storm, he said.
The president has spent the last few days increasingly pivoting away from his campaign role and into his role as a commander-in-chief staring down a natural disaster -- a move that bodes well for him both fronts. Between providing readouts on his daily briefings with FEMA, updates on his calls with local and state leaders and signing nearly a dozen emergency disaster declarations in the days and hours ahead of Sandy, Obama has won praise for his efforts from nearly all sides. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), for one, has been heaping praise on Obama for days, and the two of them plan to survey damage in New Jersey together on Wednesday.
Obama singled out Christie by name on Tuesday, along with the New York governor and the New York City mayor, for the "extraordinary" work they did to prepare for Sandy. "Sadly, we are getting more experience with these kinds of big-impact storms along the East Coast. And the preparation shows," he said.
The president made it clear that he isn't about to let a Katrina-style blunder happen on his watch, particularly a week before voters head to the polls to decide if the want him around for another four years.
If local and state officials reach out for help in the coming weeks, Obama said he has instructed federal agencies, "Do not figure out why we can't do something. I want you to figure out how we do something. I want you to cut through red tape; I want you to cut through the bureaucracy. There is no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency moving forward to make sure we are getting the resources where they are needed as quickly as possible."
He added, "I told the mayors and governors if they're getting no for an answer somewhere in the federal government, they can call me personally at the White House."
Obama said the best thing people can do to help with the recovery effort is donate to the Red Cross, which "knows what it's doing." You can donate here.