As East Coast residents brace for Hurricane Sandy, President Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's headquarters this afternoon to receive a briefing on the latest preparations for the storm, expected to make landfall late Monday evening.
"This is a serious and big storm," the president said in a brief statement to reporters. "You need to take this very seriously and follow the instructions of your state and local officials, because they are going to be providing you with the best advice in terms of how to deal with this storm over the coming days."
The president said he was "confident" that the resources needed to respond to the storm are in place, but stressed "this hasn't hit landfall yet."
"We don't yet know where it's going to hit, where we're going to see the biggest impacts. And that's exactly why it's so important for us to respond big and respond fast as local information starts coming in," he said.
Obama said he had an "excellent" meeting with the FEMA team. He also participated in a conference call this afternoon with the governors and mayors whose states and cities are expected to be impacted as the storm makes it way up the Eastern Seaboard.
Looking ahead, the president vowed to work with local officials to "cut through red tape" and not get "bogged down with a lot of rules."
"Anything they need, we will be there," he said. "We want to make sure that we're anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we've got the best possible response for what is going to be a big and messy system."
Obama encouraged residents to be "vigilant" and encouraged the public to go to http://www.ready.gov for hurricane preparation information.
"In times like this, one of the things that Americans do is that we pull together and we help out one another," he said. "Check on your neighbor, check on your friend, make sure they are prepared. If you do then you're going to get through this storm just fine, but we are going to have to make sure that we are vigilant, and vigilant for a couple of days."
With nine days until Election Day, the storm has forced Obama to scale back his campaign schedule. He still plans to hit the trail in Florida and Ohio tomorrow, but has cancelled a Monday evening rally in Virginia and Tuesday morning travel to Colorado. GOP nominee Mitt Romney has also altered his plans. He scrapped plans to campaign in Virginia today, opting to spend more time in Ohio instead.
- Betsy Klein and Mary Bruce