Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence traveled to Baton Rouge on Friday to visit flood victims and relief crews and survey damage from the catastrophic flooding that has killed 13 people and displaced thousands across South Louisiana.
In a speech in Michigan Friday evening, Trump talked about his "tour of the suffering and devastation in Louisiana."
"We mourn for the lives lost, and we pledge our help, comfort and support to every last person in need. To the people of Louisiana: We are with you, and we will always be with you," he said. "In my visit, I saw not only the suffering of our people, but also their strength, courage and unbeatable spirit. Their spirit will overcome."
The GOP presidential nominee's campaign was largely mum on Trump's rather spontaneous visit -- with word only circulating late Thursday night and no formal acknowledgement.
President Barack Obama has faced criticism for not traveling to Louisiana since the flood to view the damage first-hand. He later announced that he will travel to Baton Rouge on Tuesday. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign has not announced plans to visit Louisiana.
In a post on Facebook, Clinton said she had been in touch with Edwards and she urged people to donate to flood relief efforts. But her campaign has not announced plans to travel to Louisiana.
"My heart breaks for Louisiana, and right now, the relief effort can't afford any distractions," she wrote. "The very best way this team can help is to make sure Louisianans have the resources they need.
"These are our friends, our family members, our community — and they’re counting on us to reach out with open arms right now," she added.
Trump was greeted by several Louisiana Republicans when his "Trump"-emblazoned private jet landed at the Baton Rouge Airport shortly after 9 a.m., including Congressmen Steve Scalise and Garret Graves, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and Attorney General Jeff Landry.
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Gov. John bel Edwards, a Democrat, said Thursday night that he had not been notified of Trump's plans to visit.
"Donald Trump hasn't called the governor to inform him of his visit. We welcome him to LA, but not for a photo-op," the governors office said in a statement. "Instead we hope he'll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm."
Edwards has also defended Obama's decision not to travel here yet, saying that it would be a drain on resources.
Trump traveled across flood-ravaged areas through East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes, where piles of debris -- water-logged couches, mattresses, baby cribs, televisions and other items -- line the roadway.
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Outside Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, Trump supporters wearing T-shirts and hats with his name emblazoned on them, waited for his arrival and cheered as he walked around surveying flood relief efforts there.
"We knew you would be here for us," people in the crowd shouted, winning his attention.
Trump waved and then went into the crowd to sign autographs and shake hands.
"I came here to help," he said.
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Jeff Nolan of Denham Springs said he lost his home in the flood. As Trump approached the crowd, Nolan had the real estate mogul sign the back of his shirt.
"The only thing I've got left is my truck," Nolan said. "But material things can be replaced."
Already a Trump supporter, Nolan said it meant "everything" to him that the presidential candidate was there to see the damage and relief efforts first-hand.
"Trump is the man," he said. "He's the real deal."
Nolan said he supports Trump because he's a straight shooter who isn't worried about being politically correct.
"America needs to wake up," he said. "And don't let the Hispanic votes take the election."
Rae Anne Antoone of Central said she lost everything in the flood. Her home took on four feet of water and she estimated that 85 percent of her family has been affected.
"When we heard Donald Trump was coming, no one could keep us away," Antoone said.
She said she hasn't watched TV in several days but she was confident that Trump would visit Louisiana if he knew about the damage here. She was among the group yelling for Trump to come over to the crowd, and she was proud that she got a chance to shake his hand.
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"I knew he would come," she said. "I feel like I know him, and now I feel like he knows me."
Her husband, Eric, got Trump's autograph on his hat. A small business owner, Eric Antoone said he wants to start a new business to help with the clean-up from the flood. He had hoped to speak to Trump directly about his plan and pitch a potential reality TV show based around it, but he didn't get a chance in the brief exchange.
"It's just so much more than they realize," he said.
Later in St. Amant, Trump thanked first responders and others at an emergency operations center in hard-hit Ascension Parish.
"Great job, great job fellas," Trump told national guardsmen, shaking hands in a brief stop.
James LeBlanc, chief of the St. Amant Volunteer Fire Department, said he lost everything in the flood.
"My heart is completely shattered, but my faith is strong," he said. "This is Day 8 and the St. Amant community still has 30 percent of its residents underwater."
He said visits by Trump and other high-profile officials "means more to people than anything."
"It means so much to the people living here that the word is out that we were heavily impacted."
Nungesser said he also appreciated the attention from Trump.
"This is a red state," Nungesser said. "He didn't need to come here to win the presidency. He came here because he cares.
"And I think that speaks volumes for the people of Louisiana, and you can see it in their eyes as we walk through the neighborhoods. It truly makes a difference that someone cares enough to come."
The fact that Trump planned to stop at this seemingly out-of-the-way strip mall in Ascension Parish was kept under wraps before the candidate's noon arrival.
Even amid ongoing emergencies and the visit by the GOP presidential nominee, LeBlanc and his lieutenants rolled out the red carpet for the lone reporter in the office that Trump visited, offering food, drinks and a work station, WiFi included.
Landry said Trump's visit benefits the state amid criticism that record flooding was sparking little interest in the national news media.
"Trump's presence here brings that media back into focus," he said. "I think it is huge, huge. I think it is great for Louisiana."
Appearing on CNN, former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, also praised Trump's trip.
"I want to thank Mr. Trump for coming to Louisiana," she said. "He brought attention to our state and we need that now."
Landrieu said she hopes that Clinton and Obama will make similar trips to Louisiana in the coming days.
"It's really a serious disaster," she said. "We need all the attention and help we can get."
Scalise, the House Majority Whip who represents Louisiana's 1st District, said he thought Trump's visit was helpful to the state and to flood victims.
"You can see how he really lifted the spirits of a lot of people who need that right now," Scalise said after Trump left. "One of the most important jobs of a president as it relates to national disasters is to show up and show people you care."
Scalise said he witnessed Trump serve as an "inspiration" for people who are struggling to recover.
"It shows that he really cares, and he's got our backs," Scalise said. "It was really uplifting for people to see him."
Trump spent about three hours touring flood damage and meeting with people who have been affected by the storms.
U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter did not join Trump. Representatives for each of them said they were busy with flood recovery efforts -- Cassidy volunteering in the Lafayette area and Vitter meeting with local and federal officials, and organizing a trip for the administrator of the Small Business Administration to come to Louisiana to see flood damage.
Both released statements saying they supported Trump's decision to visit Louisiana.
“Seeing the damage in person helps bring much-needed attention to the ongoing struggles of those displaced and impacted by the historic, disastrous flooding,” Vitter said. “Full recovery will take time which is why it’s important for the presidential candidates to be here and fully understand the massive devastation.”
Graves, who represents Louisiana's 6th District, said he was impressed by Pence.
"I was really impressed with the questions and interest that Gov. Pence had today," he said after meeting the duo at the airport. "You can tell he's really looking at it as a federal administration and what needs to be done going forward."
Graves, who has been in regular briefings on the flood, also praised Fugate and Johnson's willingness to see the flood effects for themselves.
"It's really good to have all of these high-profile folks coming here," Graves said. "This disaster is not getting the national attention that quite frankly it warrants."