Biden walks storm-ravaged Louisiana: ‘I know you’re hurting’

The president pledged robust federal assistance to get people back on their feet.


National News

September 3, 2021 - 9:04 PM

The Maldonado family travel by boat to their home after it flooded during Hurricane Ida, on Tuesday, August 31, in Barataria, Louisiana. "I've lost everything" said Fusto Maldonado when asked about the storm's effect. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS)

LAPLACE, La. (AP) — Giant trees knocked sideways. Homes boarded up with plywood. Off-kilter street signs.

Less than a week after Hurricane Ida battered the Gulf Coast, President Joe Biden walked the streets of a hardhit Louisiana neighborhood on Friday and told local residents, “I know you’re hurting, I know you’re hurting.”

Biden pledged robust federal assistance to get people back on their feet and said the government already had distributed $100 million directly to individuals in the state in $500 checks to give them a first slice of critical help. Many people, he said, don’t know what help is available because they can’t get cellphone service.

Residents welcomed Biden’s presence, one of them 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 in LaPlace, a community between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that suffered major wind and water damage and was left with sheared-off roofs and flooded homes.

“I promise we’re going to have your back,” Biden said.

We spoke about the need for resiliency. We agreed putting power lines beneath the ground would have avoided all of this. The infrastructure bill has billions for grid resiliency.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana

He also took a flyover tour of pummeled areas including Lafitte, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and Lafourche Parish, where Parish President Archie Chaisson said 25% of the homes in his community of 100,000 were gone or had catastrophic damage.

The president later met privately with Gov. John Bel Edwards, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, who is from Louisiana, and local officials including Chaisson.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana

The devastation was clear even as Air Force One approached New Orleans, with uprooted trees and blue tarps covering shredded houses coming into view. The road to LaPlace exhibited power-line wood poles jutting from the ground at odd angles.

Trips to natural disaster scenes have long been a feature of U.S. presidencies, moments to demonstrate compassion and show the public leadership during a crisis. They are also opportunities to hit pause, however temporarily, from the political sniping that often dominates Washington.

In shirtsleeves and boots, Biden was welcomed at the airport by Edwards, a Democrat. Several Republicans, including Sen. Bill Cassidy and Rep. Scalise, were also on hand.

Edwards said Biden has “been a tremendous partner,” adding that he intended to keep asking for help until the president said no.

Louisiana Gov. Edwards

In the aftermath of Ida, Biden is focusing anew on the threat posed by climate change and the prospect that disaster zone visits may become a more regular feature of the presidency. The storm has killed at least 14 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and at least 48 in the Northeastern U.S.

The president has pointed to that destruction to call for greater public resolve to confront climate change. His $1 trillion infrastructure legislation intends to ensure that vital networks connecting cities and states and the country as a whole can withstand the flooding, whirlwinds and damage caused by increasingly dangerous weather.