President Obama, visiting southern Louisiana 10 days after record inundations ravaged the region, told Tuesday the nation was heartbroken at the desolation and vowed the country would help rebuild — while brushing off criticism for not cutting short his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to visit earlier.
Were going to help you, the president told, after touring one hard-hit community in East Baton Rouge Parish. The reason I can say that with confidence is because thats what Americans do. I know how resilient the people of Louisiana are and I know that you will rebuild again.
Just before Obama touched down, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the visit “too little, too late.”
But Obama defended the federal answer, vowing federal aid to the community and telling “nobody gives a hoot” about politics during a disaster.
One of the benefits of being five months short of leaving here is I dont worry too much about politics, he told.
Some parts of southern Louisiana got soaked with three inches or more of rainfall in a single hour. In all, between Aug. 11 and Aug. 14, more than 20 inches of rainfall saturated southeast Louisiana. Thirteen people succumbed and virtually 61,000 homes in 20 parishes have been damaged or destroyed.
As of Monday, 3,075 Louisiana residents remained in emergency shelters as state and federal officials scrambled to find housing.
The sheer magnitude of the demolition which described comparings to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to widen a grace period to renewed lapsed inundation insurance policies for parts of Louisiana.
On Monday, the White House was forced to defend Obamas decision not to visit the state sooner. Press Secretary John Earnest told reporters the president stayed away so he could focus on the federal answer rather than exploit the situation for a photo op.
Trump and his running mate Mike Pence visited the region on Friday, unloading supplyings and speaking to inundation victims in Gonzales, La.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “President Obama should have gone to Louisiana days ago, instead of golfing. Too little, too late! “
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has not been to Louisiana but told Monday in a statement she will visit the state sometime in the future.
I am committed to visiting communities affected by these inundations, at a time when the presence of a political campaign will not disrupt the response, to discuss how we can and will rebuild together, ” she told.
En route to Louisiana, Earnest said the federal government has approved $120 million in assistance for inundation victims. The White House told Obama is willing to assume criticism about optics as long as the federal answer is up to par.
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-out 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.
The White House on Monday pointed to praise for the federal government from the state’s Democratic governor and Republican lieutenant governor as proof of an effective answer.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who took office this year, said he suggested to Obama and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett that they delay a trip-up to Louisiana until the initial disaster response was over.
Obama signed a disaster declaration on Aug. 14 that constructs federal funding available for assistance such as awards for temporary housing and home mends, 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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