President Barack Obama, wearing a blue buttoned-down shirt, waved to a crowd along Passaic Avenue in Fairfield Sunday from the back of his black motorcade car as he sped toward Wayne and Paterson to tour flood-ravaged areas.
Obama could be seen briefly in his motorcade after arriving at Essex County's airport in Fairfield in one of five military helicopters that landed between 12:25 and 12:45 p.m.
Police presence was heavy all along Passaic Avenue, while sharpshooters could be seen on top of the buildings at the airport. A line of buses were parked in front of the landing area so the view of his disembarking was blocked from the crowds.
Crowds of local residents lined parking lots and grassy lawns of businesses along Passaic Avenue to get a glimpse of the president who was accompanied by Gov. Chris Christie, and U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
"It's a once in a lifetime event for these guys," said Jonathan Pryor of Essex Fells, who brought his wife and some of his children to glimpse the president.
"I'm surprised he's coming to a small town such as Caldwell, New Jersey, it's exciting," said 12-year-old Skylar Thiemann, who watched the airport from across the street.
Among the oldest spectators was Marvin Meyer, who, at the age of 95, said he once saw Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the back of a train in Montana. Though his vision isn't the same, he said, he was still excited to see Obama from his perch on a lawn chair across the street.
Obama had first touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport, shortly after noon. Flanked by more than 30 law enforcement officials, the president walked down the steps of Air Force One shortly and shook hands with Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) before jogging nearly 100 feet to a group of two dozen onlookers and national and international media. Media was positioned on risers next to the small crowd. Onlookers carried no signs, but had cameras and cell phones.
Five-year-old Nadair Williams received a hug from the president in Newark.
"He loved his hair cut," said his grandmother, Deborah Hughs. Hughs, 53, said Obama complimented the child's mohawk before giving him a full hug. "Nadair laid his head on (Obama's) chest," she said.
After shaking hands and smiling to reporters, the president boarded Marine One with Christie and the senators, headed to Essex County Airport in Fairfield, N.J. Christie, Lautenberg and Menendez did not take questions or give statements. Marine One landed in Fairfield around 12:47 p.m. after the officials viewed Paterson, N.J., from the helicopter.
The four then left in a motorcade for cities in North Jersey around 12:52 p.m. with U.S. Reps. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), as well as Passaic Sheriff Richard Berdnik.
As the SUVs left the Fairfield airport along Passaic Avenue, one person held up a sign reading "Help Us."
Obama's visit comes a week after Hurricane Irene barreled up the East Coast, causing major flooding in the Garden State. By the time the hurricane hit northern New Jersey, though, it was downgraded to a tropical storm.
The president was in the state to tour Paterson, a city hard hit by Hurricane Irene. Residents were evacuated from their flooded homes by National Guard troops and sent to area shelters. John DiViovanni works at St. Joseph's Hospital in Paterson and said the city was hit, "pretty bad." He said, "A lot of people were put out of their homes and getting in and out was terrible."
He also made a brief stop in Wayne, which sustained devastating flood damage.
Many of the crowd watching the president were from Fairfield, another city ravaged by the flood. "People were using jet skis to get around town and boats were parked in the street. It was extreme," said Denise Paz, who evacuated from Fairfield until the water receeded.
Lauren Scholtz lives in Fairfield but said she didn't have to evacuate. She brought her four-month-old and 18-month old sons to see the president land, "It's very said to see how many things people have lost." She said residents needed help so the flood doesn't keep reoccurring. "They need to help stop the flooding and change something so they don't have to keep rebuilding and doing their homes over and over again."
Sam Taylor, 22 and his girlfriend, Jade Fisher, 21, were on vacation from Bristol, England when they heard about Obama's arrival in Fairfield. "It's crazy, it's like in a film," Taylor said, adding he'd love to shake the president's hand if he had the chance.
Vivian Garcia of West Caldwell brought her two children, six-year-old Izabella and four-year-old Gregory. They were excited to see Obama, but also had some things they wanted to talk to him about. Izabella Garcia said she was ready with her question, "Why are gas prices so high."
Once the president landed, however, his motorcade sped off, accompanied by seven state police trooper cars, and two state police SUVs.