LAPLACE, Louisiana (AP) – Giant trees overturned on their side. Houses boarded up with plywood. Staggered road signs.
Less than a week after Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast, President Joe Biden walked the streets of a hard-hit Louisiana neighborhood and told local residents, “I know you are suffering, I know you are in pain. “
Such a scene will likely repeat itself early next week when Biden visits parts of the northeast that have also been hit by flash floods caused by Ida’s soggy remains. The White House announced on Saturday that Biden will travel to Manville, New Jersey, and the New York neighborhood of Queens on Tuesday.
In Louisiana, Biden pledged strong federal aid to get people back on their feet and said the government had already distributed $ 100 million directly to individuals in the state in $ 500 checks to give them a first installment of aid. critical. Many people, he said, don’t know what help is available because they can’t get cell phone service.
Residents welcomed Biden’s presence on Friday, with one drawing a sign with his last name and a heart for the dot on the “i”. They laughed and posed for selfies.
More formally, Biden met with state and local officials at LaPlace, a community between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that suffered extensive wind and water damage and ended up with sheared roofs and flooded houses.
“I promise we will support you,” Biden said.
He also flew over disaster-stricken areas including Lafitte, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and the parish of Lafourche, where parish president Archie Chaisson said 25% of the homes in his community of 100,000 had disappeared or suffered. catastrophic damage.
The president then met privately with Governor John Bel Edwards, Republican House Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and local officials including Chaisson.
the the devastation was clear even as Air Force One approached New Orleans, with uprooted trees and blue tarps covering ragged houses. The road to LaPlace showed wooden poles of power lines protruding from the ground at odd angles.
Travel to the scenes of natural disasters has long been a hallmark of U.S. presidencies, times to show compassion and show public leadership during a crisis. They are also opportunities to take a break, even temporarily, from the political tensions that often dominate Washington.
In shirt sleeves and boots, Biden was greeted at the airport by Edwards, a Democrat. Several Republicans, including Senator Bill Cassidy and Representative Scalise, were also in attendance.
Edwards said Biden had “been a great partner,” adding that he intended to continue asking for help until the president said no.
In the aftermath of Ida, Biden is once again focusing on the threat posed by climate change and the prospect that visits to disaster areas may become a more regular feature of the presidency. The storm killed at least 14 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and at least 49 in the northeastern United States. At least 25 people have died in New Jersey alone.
The president highlighted this destruction to call for greater public resolve to deal with climate change. Its $ 1 trillion infrastructure legislation aims to ensure that vital networks connecting cities, states and the country as a whole can withstand flooding, eddies and damage from increasingly dangerous weather conditions. .
During Friday’s briefing with local officials, Biden insisted that the infrastructure bill and an even broader measure later would more effectively prepare the country.
“It seems to me that we can save a lot of money, a lot of pain for our constituents, if we rebuild, rebuild better,” Biden said. “I realize I’m selling while I’m talking. “
Senator Cassidy later tweeted that in his conversation with Biden, “We talked about the need for resilience. We agreed that putting power lines underground would have avoided all of that. The infrastructure bill has billions for network resiliency.
Former presidents were defined in part by how they handled such crises.
Apparently casually, Donald Trump people lofted paper napkins in Puerto Rico after a hurricane, generating contempt for critics but little damage to his political position. Barack Obama hugged Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2012 after Storm Sandy, a brief respite from partisan tensions that had threatened the economy. George W. Bush fell into public disgrace after a poor and unprepared response to Hurricane Katrina, which inundated New Orleans in 2005.
Scientists say climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events – such as large tropical storms, droughts and heat waves that create conditions for vast forest fires. U.S. weather officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month in 142 years of record keeping.
Biden’s nearly eight-month-old presidency has been shaped in part by perpetual crises. President went to texas in february after a cold winter storm caused the state’s power grid to go out, and he’s been keeping a close watch on wildfires in the western states.
Besides natural disasters, the president has had to face a host of other challenges. He is looking for ways to save the 100-200 Americans stranded in Afghanistan after the longest war in U.S. history ended a few days ago. He also faces the delta variant of the coronavirus which plunged the country into an autumn of uncertainty just months after declaring independence from the disease during a July 4 celebration on the White House lawn.
Ida was the fifth-strongest storm to hit the United States when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 240 km / h, possibly causing tens of billions of dollars in flooding, wind and more. damage, including to the electricity network. Remnants of the storm on Wednesday dropped devastating rainfall in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, causing significant disruption in major cities.
Associated Press editors Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Christina Larson and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
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