FEMA administrator: Obama ordered speedy disaster declarations

President Obama took the rare step of granting major-disaster declarations to New York and New Jersey without a full federal assessment, clearing the way more quickly for direct grants to individuals hit hardest by former Hurricane Sandy.

The president determined after consultations with officials in those states that the damage was extensive enough to merit a “verbal declaration,” Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday afternoon.

“Because of the extent of the damage,” Fugate said, the president “agreed he would do it as a verbal declaration,” latitude usually reserved for events like the tsunami that hit American Samoa in 2009.

President Obama may be off the campaign trail to monitor the storm, but that doesn’t mean voters aren’t hearing from him.

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He won’t go to battleground states Wednesday, but he will do a high-profile trip to New Jersey alongside Republican Gov. Chris Christie -- better known for most of this season as a surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Christie has called the president and his administration “outstanding” in their response to the storm. He also said Obama called him at midnight Monday to ask whether the administration could help his state.

At the same time, a straightforward briefing about the storm Tuesday afternoon uncovered the tidbit about Obama’s expedited disaster declarations.

The declarations make new federal money available to people living in the areas hit hardest by the storm. It includes direct grants to people who need temporary housing and home repair, as well as low-cost loans to help pay for property damage not covered by insurance.

VIDEOS: East Coast hit by deadly storm

Fugate also said he and the president were continuing to talk with officials in the areas hardest hit as they try to get power back on.

That work goes on as the storm continues to take its toll, said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center. The storm’s center of circulation is moving north slowly, he said, and it will take until sometime Wednesday for Sandy to clear the U.S.

The storm, Knabb said, isn’t “anywhere near over.”

MAP: Hurricane Sandy barrels in

Twitter: @cparsons