Obama Vows Support For LA After The 'Cameras Leave,' Mayor Landrieu Issues Statement On President’s Visit
ZACHARY, LA (AP) — Standing amid piles of waterlogged debris, President Barack Obama on Tuesday promised a sustained national effort to rebuild flood-ravaged southern Louisiana "even after the TV cameras leave" on a visit aimed in part at stemming campaign-season criticism that he's been slow to respond to the disaster.
As he toured a battered neighborhood and spoke to local officials, Obama tried to buck up beleaguered residents of the water-soaked region.
"This is not a one-off, this is not a photo-op issue. I need all Americans to stay focused on this," he said. "I know how resilient the people of Louisiana are and I know that you will rebuild again."
Eleven years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Obama's visit was a reminder of the political dangers and opportunities natural disasters pose for politicians. The president has been criticized for waiting until after he returned from his New England vacation to tour the Gulf Coast flooding. The timing, amid a heated presidential campaign, drew barbs from some local officials and Republicans political opponents, including GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Trump visited Baton Rouge on Friday, enjoying a warm reception and allowing him to cast the president as golfing while Louisianans suffered. It was a sentiment echoed by many in the area, many of whom have said they feel their plight has been ignored by the media.
"Too little too late," Mona Gaspard said of Obama's visit. The resident of Ascension Parish said she saw her home filled with 4 feet of water and resented what she saw from Obama. "I saw him play golf, not helping out over here. Trump was over here, but he wasn't," she said.
Others welcomed Obama and the spotlight he brought.
"It means a lot to know you have that support from the highest level," said Chrisena Brown, as the president surveyed the piles of discarded mattresses, broken appliances and heaps of clothing that line the curbs of her street. The college administrator says she's staying with family while she cleans up, working late into the night in stifling humidity.
Going door to door and trailed by cameras, Obama offered sympathy to residents as they took a break from the cleanup.
"I wish I was coming at a better time," he told one resident, as he put his arm around her and walked into her home for a brief tour. "But I'm glad to see everybody is safe, at least."
Obama is hardly new to the potent politics such moments. As a candidate in 2008, he was a sharp critic of President George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina. And in 2012, the year of his re-election effort, he rushed to Louisiana to show solidarity with victims of Hurricane Isaac.
Now a president eying the end of his second term, Obama was neither emotional nor particularly defensive in relaying his message to residents. He said flatly he doesn't "worry too much about politics" and that he is focused on improving the speed and efficiency of the federal response.
The White House said $127 million in federal aid had been designated for temporary rental assistance, essential home repairs, and flood insurance payments. 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.
Louisiana officials aimed for bipartisan support and unity as they turned to the task of rounding up federal money for their state. A large group of officials met the president at the airport, including Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat; Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican; and Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter.
In a letter to Obama, Edwards asked the president to reduce Louisiana's share of the response costs from 25 percent to 10 percent, to fully cover the Louisiana National Guard's response costs and to seek disaster block grant aid for the state from Congress.
The governor estimated flooding has ravaged "well over 100,000 homes" across south Louisiana — on top of 29,000 homes that received damage in a March flood in northern parts of the state.
Edwards had said Obama was better off timing his visit until after the cleanup was underway, so as not to pull resources away from the effort. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton issued a statement Monday saying she would visit "at a time when the presence of a political campaign will not disrupt the response, to discuss how we can and will rebuild together."
Before leaving Louisiana, Obama paid another visit he has been criticized for delaying. The president met privately with the family of Alton Sterling, a black man whose death last month in a police shooting sparked protests and mass arrests. Obama also met with the families of officers killed or injured nearly two weeks later by a gunman, apparently in response to Sterling's killing, the White House said.
Obama was criticized for not visiting Baton Rouge after those two incidents, although he went to Dallas to eulogize five police officers killed in another attack targeting law enforcement.
– by AP Reporter Kevin Freking
On Tuesday, August 23, Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued the following statement on President Barack Obama’s visit to flood impacted areas of Louisiana.
“First and foremost, our deepest thoughts and prayers continue to be with all who have been impacted by the terrible flooding. I want to thank President Obama for visiting Louisiana today to see the scale of the devastation firsthand. His administration has been on the ground providing support and resources from the beginning of this disaster. So far, twenty parishes across Louisiana have been declared federal disaster areas. Congress must now step up and do its part to help our friends recover and rebuild.
“In New Orleans, we know all too well what it’s like to suffer through a disaster and the long road to recovery. We must never forget those who helped us when we needed it most, including our neighbors from around the state. I am calling on all New Orleanians to find a way to support, whether it be with a donation or by lending a helping hand, just like our neighbors helped us in our time of need. The NOLA Pay It Forward fund is still accepting donations to be used to provide resources for early relief and ongoing rebuilding efforts of impacted communities. More must be done and we all must do our part for our friends in need.”
Last week, Mayor Landrieu reactivated the NOLA Pay It Forward Fund for New Orleanians to contribute to early recovery efforts following major flooding that started last week in most of northern Louisiana and parts of southern Louisiana. The fund is housed with the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF). So far, $40,000 in grants have been provided to four community organizations that are helping those affected by the recent major flooding in Louisiana. Through the NOLA Pay It Forward Fund, the Salvation Army of Baton Rouge, Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Second Harvest of Greater New Orleans and Capital Area United Way will each receive $10,000. Through the NOLA Pay It Forward Fund, the Salvation Army of Baton Rouge, Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Second Harvest of Greater New Orleans and Capital Area United Way will each receive $10,000.
The City and GNOF will play a continuous role in supporting the long-term recovery needs of the communities affected by the major flooding, City reps said. Subsequent rounds of funding will be used to fund organizations that are mobilizing volunteers and resources to assist in rebuilding efforts and grassroots organizations driving community rebuilding in the affected parishes.
Mayor Landrieu launched the NOLA Pay it Forward Fund in May 2011 to contribute to recovery efforts following the Mississippi River flooding disaster. It was also activated in 2012 in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy to support recovery efforts in the northeast and in May 2013 following catastrophic tornadoes in Oklahoma.
Those interested in donating to the fund can go online here.