WASHINGTON President Barack Obama told emergency response officials on Saturday to cut through government "red tape" and work without delay to help areas ravaged by monster storm Sandy to return to normal as quickly as possible.
"There's nothing more important than getting this right," the president said at a briefing with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local governments.
With the presidential election four days away, the destructive storm has shifted some of the focus away from Obama's tight race with Republican Mitt Romney. While the natural disaster has afforded the president an opportunity to rise above the fray of campaigning, it has also raised the stakes for him to show his administration can respond quickly and effectively in a crisis.
Obama spoke by video conference with the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and municipal officials to discuss efforts to help the East Coast states reeling from Monday's storm that left 110 dead, millions without power, and whole neighborhoods destroyed by flooding.
"We still have a long way to go to make sure that the people of New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and some of the surrounding areas get their basic needs taken care of," the president told reporters.
Obama said people working on rescue and relief efforts are making a "120 percent" effort, but urged those providing disaster relief to work without delay.
"We don't have patience for bureaucracy. We don't have patience for red tape," the president said.
Relief efforts are focusing on restoring power and pumping water out of flooded areas, Obama said.
"It's critical for us to get power on as quickly as possible," he said. Military equipment was being brought in from around the country to help with those efforts, the president said.,
Relief work is also concentrated on meeting the needs of people affected by the storm, removing debris, and positioning National Guard to help getting transportation systems back to normal, he added.
Patience had worn thin on Friday as millions remained without power and many drivers waited in long lines for gasoline.
The government moved to ease the fuel crunch by tapping strategic reserves and buying millions of gallons of gasoline and diesel to be trucked to storm-damaged areas.
(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Jackie Frank)