WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
A week after Tropical Storm Irene hit New Jersey, President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie toured some of the hardest-hit areas near the Passaic River in Wayne and Paterson.
As the president was touring the state on Sunday, the White House extended its disaster declaration to all of New Jersey's 21 counties, which will help residents and businesses get expedited FEMA assistance.
For 600 of the hardest hit households in Paterson, the presidential visit was a welcomed distraction from the prolonged power outage, difficulty securing food and water and the foul stench of solvents and sewage that permeates some spots.
At Rehoboth Church of Christ, the congregaton turned out in their Sunday best walking down debris-strewn streets to the church that was run off of a generator. The sound of pumps and generators filled the air as a counter point to the loud gospel singing.
"All those communities that have been affected by flooding, by the destruction that occurred as a consequence of Hurricane Irene" has "the entire country" behind them, Obama said Sunday at the Temple Bridge in Paterson. "We are going to make sure that we provide all the resources that are necessary in order to help these communities rebuild."
He said despite "some talk" of a "slowdown in getting funding out here" emergency relief would not be delayed.
"I want to make it very clear that we are going to meet our federal obligations because we're one country, and when one part of the country gets affected ... then we come together as one country," Obama said.
The same day Obama visited the state, an impromptu disaster resource center at the intersection of Haledon Avenue and North Main Street was doing a brisk business. T
he Salvation Army was providing solace and bottled water. PSEG reps worked to explain to how inspections needed to be carried out before turning power back on. Verizon had a specially rigged tractor trailer that provided free calls, internet access and cell phone charging.
Asenio Sebrao, who pumped out his basement for three days, was frustrated he could not get his electricity restored without a city inspection of his electric system first.
"I don't care if he came or didn't," Sebrao said. "My president is my own two hands working hard everyday."