HURRICANE IRENE

Obama views Hurricane Irene damage in New Jersey

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WAYNE, N.J. (AP) - Keeping tabs on a Gulf Coast storm, President Barack Obama focused on flood damage in New Jersey during a trip Sunday to see firsthand the destruction that Hurricane Irene caused.

Obama took a helicopter flight from Newark to Fairfield, a suburb about 10 miles west of Paterson, the state's third-largest city where the Passaic River overflowed.

His motorcade brought him to a residential area in nearby Wayne that was hit hard by the flooding of the Pompton River, which flows into the Passaic. Both rivers experienced record flood levels after the storm.

"Everybody's going to be working hard to help you recover," Obama told one woman as he made his way down Fayette Avenue. Neighbors watched as the president walked past flooded homes, the garage doors open. Piles of water-damaged debris littered the curb.

Obama then made his way to Paterson, a city chosen because "this was a place he can visit that had particularly severe impacts," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The Passaic River swept through the once-booming factory town of 150,000, flooding the downtown area and forcing hundreds to evacuate.

Joining Obama were Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and members of the state's congressional delegation.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who greeted Obama upon his arrival in Newark, has offered the Democratic president praise for his response to Irene.

"When disaster strikes, Americans suffer, not Democrats, not independents, not Republicans," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Americans suffer, and then we come together and put politics aside to make sure that those Americans get the assistance that they need."

Federal officials were monitoring Tropical Storm Lee, which was dumping torrential rains across the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. That area is still recovering six years after Hurricane Katrina.

Carney said the administration is concerned about what "has been and will be a significant amount of rainfall."

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