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'He spoke to us as if he knew us for a long time'

November 29, 2012 00:37 IST

President Barrack Obama, who November 15 visited Staten Island, the New York City borough devastated by Superstorm Sandy, met with members of the St George Orthodox Church, which was partially damaged.

"We did not expect to meet the President," Sunny Konniyoor, a member of the church, told India Abroad. "We stood near the church hoping to see the President going that way."

Instead of driving through, Obama walked the area in New Dorp Beach, inspecting the damage and interacting with the residents. Only those who live in the area were allowed to remain there.

"Since we are members of the church, the Secret Service allowed us to stand near the church," Konniyoor said.

When the President saw the group, who included vicar Father Alex K Joy, Dr Skaria Oommen, Konniyoor and his son Martin, he walked towards them.

Martin, an accountant, congratulated  Obama on his election victory. The president inquired about his work.

The team described to the president the extent of damage to the church, which is the first church bought by the Orthodox Church in North America. There was no flood insurance for the church. They do not expect much help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Konniyoor, an Obama supporter, said, "He spoke to us as if he knew us for a long time."

It was the president who suggested they take a photograph. A state lawmaker took the camera from Martin and clicked the photograph published alongside.

Obama was accompanied by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, US Senator Chuck Schumer and several top officials.

"We're reminded that we are bound together and have to look out for each other," Obama said after walking down a block that had been all but demolished in the storm.

"We're going to have to put some of the turf battles aside. We are going to have to make sure everybody's focused on doing the job, as opposed to worrying about who's getting the credit or who's getting the contracts and all that stuff that sometimes goes into the rebuilding process," he said.

Of 43 deaths attributed to the storm in New York City, 23 were on Staten Island.

Picture: (from left), Martin Sunny, Sunny Konniyoor, Dr Skaria Oommen, Father Alex K Joy and President Barack Obama on Staten Island, New York

George Joseph in New York