LAPLACE, Louisiana — President Barack Obama toured hurricane-stricken Louisiana on Monday and promised federal recovery help as he sought to show his administration was on top of the disaster response on the eve of his Democrats’ national convention in North Carolina.
Obama was preceded by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who diverted from the campaign trail to Louisiana on Friday to inspect the fallout from Hurricane Isaac a day after accepting his party’s nomination for the November 6 election.
Flying into New Orleans on a hot, sunny day, Obama traveled by motorcade to nearby St. John the Baptist Parish, one of the hardest-hit communities, where he met federal, state and local officials and then surveyed the area.
He saw evidence of the storm’s fury – twisted road signs, toppled trees, blown-down fences, debris piled high and pools of water beside the road. Stepping out of his limousine, he paused to comfort a few residents and hear their stories.
“There has been enormous devastation in St. John’s Parish,” Obama told reporters. He cited similar destruction in other parts of Louisiana as well as neighboring Mississippi and praised emergency officials for limiting the loss of life.
The White House has taken pains to depict Obama as deeply engaged in the government’s handling of Isaac and its aftermath. His Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, was heavily criticized for the sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.
Being cast in the role of consoler-in-chief could have political benefits for Obama, who is locked in a tight race with Romney and will accept his party’s nomination in a prime-time speech on Thursday night in Charlotte, North Carolina. The convention begins today.
“How y’all doin’?” Obama asked Trebor Smith, wearing shorts and high rubber boots, outside his storm-damaged house.
“Better now,” Smith said.
One woman told Obama the water rose so fast that she and her family had to be rescued by boat.
Isaac was the first hurricane to strike the United States this year, hitting New Orleans almost exactly seven years after Katrina hit, causing an estimated 1,800 deaths.
But Isaac was a much weaker storm. It was blamed for six deaths in Louisiana and two in neighbouring Mississippi, and both states suffered from widespread flooding. (Reuters)