LAPLACE, La. – Giant trees knocked on the side. Boarded houses with plywood. Misplaced 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 on Friday and told local residents, “I know you’re in pain, I know you’re in. bad”.
Biden pledged solid federal assistance to get people back on their feet and said the government has already handed out $ 100 million directly to people in the state in $ 500 checks to give them a first slice of vital help. Many people, he said, don’t know what help is available because they can’t get mobile phone service.
Residents welcomed Biden’s presence, one of them drew 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 in LaPlace, a community between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that suffered severe wind and water damage and was left with sheared roofs and flooded homes.
“I promise we will have your back,” Biden said.
He also toured over affected areas including Lafitte, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon, and Lafourche Parish, where Parish President Archie Chaisson said 25% of homes in his community of 100,000 had gone or suffered catastrophic damage. .
The president later met privately with Governor John Bel Edwards, Republican House Group leader Steve Scalise, a native of Louisiana, and local officials including Chaisson.
The devastation was also clear as Air Force One approached New Orleans, with uprooted trees and blue tarps covering destroyed homes coming into view. The road to LaPlace showed wooden power line poles protruding from the ground at odd angles.
Travels to the scenes of natural disasters have long been a feature of US presidencies, moments to show compassion and show public leadership during a crisis. They are also opportunities to pause, albeit temporarily, the political sniping that often dominates Washington.
In shirt sleeves and boots, Biden was greeted at the airport by Edwards, a Democrat. Several Republicans were also present, including Senator Bill Cassidy and Representative Scalise.
Edwards said Biden was “an amazing partner,” adding that he intended to continue asking for help until the president said no.
In the aftermath of the 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 48 in the northeastern United States
The president pointed to that destruction to call for greater public determination to tackle climate change. Its $ 1 trillion infrastructure legislation is intended to ensure that vital networks connecting cities and states and the country as a whole can withstand flooding, tornadoes and damage caused by increasingly dangerous weather conditions.
At Friday’s briefing with local officials, Biden insisted on the infrastructure bill and an even more expansive measure later would prepare the country more effectively.
“It seems to me that we can save a lot of money, a lot of pain for our constituents, if we rebuild, we rebuild again in a better way,” Biden said. “I realize I’m selling as I speak.”
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 prevent this. The infrastructure bill provides billions for grid resilience.” .
Past presidents were defined in part by the way they handled these crises.
Seemingly casually, Donald Trump threw paper napkins at people in Puerto Rico after a hurricane, generating contempt from critics but little damage to his political stance. Barack Obama hugged Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy, a brief respite from partisan tensions that had threatened the economy. George W. Bush lost public favor after a poor and unprepared response to Hurricane Katrina, which engulfed New Orleans in 2005.
Scientists say climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events, such as large tropical storms, droughts and heat waves that create the conditions for vast fires. US meteorological officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month on record in 142 years of recording.
Biden’s presidency, which has lasted for nearly eight months, has been shaped in part by perpetual crises. The president traveled to Texas in February after a cold winter storm caused the state’s power grid to fail, and closely monitored wildfires in the western states.
In addition to natural disasters, the president faced a multitude of other challenges. It is looking for ways to rescue the 100-200 Americans stranded in Afghanistan after the longest war in US history ended a few days ago. It is also tackling the delta variant of the coronavirus that plunged the country into an autumn of uncertainty just months after it declared independence from the disease during a July 4th celebration on the White House lawn.
Ida was the fifth most powerful storm to hit the United States when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with winds of up to 240km / h, likely causing tens of billions of dollars in flooding, wind and other damage, including the power grid. The remnants of the storm sent devastating rains in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, causing significant disruption to major cities.
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