WASHINGTON _ President Barack Obama expressed confidence Monday that state and local officials were prepped and ready for all that Hurricane Sandy would deliver, but asked for cooperation and patience from East Coasters getting pounded by the massive storm.
"Right now the key is to make sure the public is following instructions," Obama told reporters in the White House. "I'm confident that we're ready. But I think the public needs to prepare for the fact that this is going to take a long time for us to clean up. The good news is we will clean up and we will get through this."
Obama spoke after meeting with top security and emergency officials in the situation room, where he was briefed on the trajectory of the hurricane and the coordination of the federal and state efforts to minimize damage. Obama said he had been in touch with governors and other local officials, and urged people to listen carefully to their warnings.
"When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate," Obama said. "Do not delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given."
Obama scrapped a campaign appearance in Orlando earlier Monday and rushed back to Washington to be able to deliver this sort of from-the-podium warning. Rather than burning up the campaign trail eight days before Election Day, the White House was set on ensuring that Obama monitor the storm from Washington, where the trappings of his office clearly underscore his power and set him apart from his opponent, Mitt Romney. Although the White House regularly notes that Obama can, and does, perform all his official duties from the road, the president believed in this case "it's essential in his view that he be in Washington," his spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday.
In his remarks, Obama dismissed the potential impact the storm may have on the election.
"I'm not worried, at this point, about the impact on the election," he said. "I'm worried about the impact on families. I'm worried about the impact on our first responders. I'm worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week."
Still, Obama ended on a note that sounded something like his pleas for unity and resolve in his stump speech.
"This is going to be a big storm. It's going to be a difficult storm," he said. "The great thing about America is that when we go through tough times like this we all pull together. We look out for our friends. We look out for our neighbors. And we set aside whatever issues we may have otherwise."
The Obama campaign has cleared the president's schedule of campaign rallies on Tuesday. He was slated to attend rallies in Colorado and Wisconsin. It has not yet announced whether the president will go back out on the trail on Wednesday.