Obama arrives in Baton Rouge to see flood damage


President Barack Obama has arrived in Baton Rouge for a first-hand view of the damage caused by flooding that killed 13 people and forced thousands from their homes.

President Obama was greeted at Baton Rouge’s airport by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Lt Gov Billy Nungesser and the state’s US Senators Bill Cassidy and David Vitter.

The White House has released few details about the president’s brief trip.

He is expected to tour one of the many neighbourhoods in southern Louisiana devastated by the flooding caused by more than 20 inches of rain in some communities over a three-day period.

The flooding damaged more than 60,000 homes and forced thousands to seek temporary housing, according to estimates.
More than 115,000 people across south Louisiana have signed up for federal disaster assistance.

President Obama took some criticism by opting to complete his family’s two-week holiday in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, before inspecting the flood damage personally and meeting with local residents.

An editorial headline in the Baton Rouge Advocate last week read: “Our Views: Vacation or not, a hurting Louisiana needs you now, President Obama.”

The White House said President Obama is willing to assume criticism about “optics” as long as the federal response is up to par.

“The survivors of the flooding in Louisiana are not well served by a political discussion; they’re well served by a competent, effective, strong, coordinated government response,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday.

“And the federal government has certainly done our part in the first eight to 10 days after this disaster, but there’s a long road ahead.”

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump visited Baton Rouge on Friday, hugging victims and driving through some of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods, where the entire contents of homes were piled on the curb.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton issued a statement on Monday saying she would visit the communities affected by the flooding “at a time when the presence of a political campaign will not disrupt the response, to discuss how we can and will rebuild together”.

The storm and its flooding have damaged an estimated 60,000 homes and forced thousands to seek temporary housing. More than 115,000 people have registered for federal disaster aid, with the state saying $20 million has been distributed to individuals so far. At least 40 state highways remained closed.

Nearly 11 years ago, Hurricane Katrina’s crippling of New Orleans and the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama demonstrated how political leaders cannot afford to underestimate the gravity of responding to natural disasters with force and immediacy.

In 2005, then-President George W Bush was faulted by critics for flying over but not touching down in Louisiana in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a decision he years later described as a mistake.

In 2012, President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney wasted no time in heading to Louisiana to see the damage from Hurricane Isaac.

The White House on Monday pointed to praise for the federal government from the state’s Democratic governor and Republican lieutenant governor as evidence of an effective response.

And it dismissed criticism of President Obama’s decision to stay away during the first week-and-a-half after the flooding as politically motivated.

Bel Edwards, who took office this year, said he suggested to President Obama and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett that they delay a trip to Louisiana until the initial disaster response was over and recovery efforts had started.

President Obama signed a disaster declaration on August 14 that makes federal funding available for assistance such as grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and low-cost loans to cover losses for uninsured property.

He subsequently dispatched Fema Administrator Craig Fugate and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to the region.

“I think the effectiveness of the response thus far speaks for itself,” Mr Earnest said. “And I think frankly, it’s the most effective way to answer any of the politically motivated criticism that the president has faced.”

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