U.S. President Barack Obama made his first visit Tuesday to the southeastern state of Louisiana, where historic flooding has ravaged much of the southern part of the state.
The president hoped to reassure flood victims that his administration has made disaster recovery a top priority. «You are not alone on this. Even after the TV cameras leave, the whole country is going to continue to support you,» Obama said as he toured a flood damaged neighborhood in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Obama has declared 20 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes disaster areas which, in effect, streamlines the process of delivering federal aid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has said more than 115,000 people have applied for federal financial assistance, and so far $127 million is immediately available. More than 700 households have been placed in temporary housing such as hotels and motels.
The president’s trip to Louisiana follows his two-week family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, prompting criticism from those who thought he should have cut his vacation short to visit the Gulf Coast state. The White House said last week Obama was eager to see the impact of the floods, but wanted to make sure his presence did not «interfere with ongoing recovery efforts.»
Trump tweets disapproval
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump visited the Louisiana city of Baton Rouge on Friday, embracing victims and touring some of the most heavily damaged neighborhoods.
«President Obama should have gone to Louisiana days ago, instead of golfing. Too little, too late!,» Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
Obama responded to the criticism, saying with five months left in office, «I don’t worry too much about politics.» He added: «When disasters strike, that’s probably one of the few times when Washington does not get political. Nobody gives a hoot whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.»
He toured the neighborhood after being briefed by federal officials, emergency workers and state and local politicians, including Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican Congressman Garret Graves.
With Obama viewing the flood damage just a short distance away, Graves told CNN during an interview it is important for the president to visit the flood damaged area to «get a feel for the profound impact of this disaster.» The Republican lawmaker dismissed the critics, saying «I know there’s a lot of appreciation of him being here.»
Thousands in shelters
Storms and flooding swept through area between August 8 and 14, claiming the lives of at least 13 people, damaging about 60,000 homes and leaving thousands of people seeking temporary shelter.
The American Red Cross describes the flooding as «the largest natural disaster to hit the United States since superstorm Sandy,» the most destructive and deadly hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season.
Obama said the focus must shift to the area’s longer term requirements after attending to the immediate needs of the flood victims. He said private, as well as public assistance, will be required. «I’m asking every American to do what you can to help people and local business get back on their feet.»
He added «They’ve got a lot to do and they can’t do it alone.»