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Obama: Sandy recovery 'not going to be easy' (+video)

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It was Obama's first trip to New York since the storm and his Nov. 6 re-election. The trip came as he confronted other pressing issues such as the "fiscal cliff" of looming automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that could stunt economic growth, unrest in the Middle East, and the fallout from the resignation of his CIA director.

The gigantic storm caused an estimated $50 billion in damage as it inundated lower Manhattan with seawater, rearranged the New Jersey shore and Long Island, and tore up neighborhoods in far-flung areas of New York City's outer boroughs.

At least 22 people died in Staten Island, a Republican-leaning enclave that nonetheless voted for Obama 50 percent to 49 percent over challenger Mitt Romney.

Obama announced he was appointing Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, a New Yorker, as the federal government's "point person" to oversee storm recovery.

He left unanswered exactly how to pay for the damage.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo estimated the storm caused $50 billion in damage and economic losses, more than $30 billion of that in New York state alone.

FEMA is due to reimburse some victims and local governments for damage but has only about $8.1 billion available, meaning Congress may have to appropriate more money at a time when much of the talk is of fiscal restraint in Washington.

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