President Joe Biden toured storm damaged River parishes and Bayou communities as state officials delivered extensive wish lists of needs.
“The president when he leaves will probably have to tell me ‘OK that’s enough governor, you need to be quiet’ because I’ll be making a number of requests and quite frankly, I think they’ll be well received based on the conversations we’ve been having,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.
First and foremost, Edwards said, is the need for supplemental federal funding for housing needs. Southwest Louisiana has gone without that support for more than a year.
Five days after Hurricane Ida, signs of federal help remained scarce on the ground in some of the neighborhoods hit worst by fierce rain, racecar-fast winds, and flash flooding.
Houses are beginning to mold over and tarps remain in scarce supply as residents clamor for ice to keep cool and gas to power generators.
Ever since Hurricane Ida sent water streaming into Albert Lewis's house, he has slept with his neighbor in her car outside their devastated apartment complex.
Lewis, a 71-year-old widower and veteran, doesn't want to worry his brother by letting him know his apartment is uninhabitable. And he doesn't want to give looters a chance of saving the few prized possessions that Ida didn't destroy.
On Friday, the owner of the complex, the Golden Country Estate, came by to hand him his deposit and tell him to leave. He suggested that Lewis ask FEMA for help.
"FEMA is invisible," Lewis shot back. "They're just a name."
Lewis would also like to stay in a hotel room with air conditioning and running water. But at his age, it's impossible to figure out the FEMA website, he said.
That's if he can even get a cell signal in a parish where communications remain limited.
Biden arrived at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport around noon Friday. Edwards, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, and several local officials spoke with the president he boarded a helicopter and headed to Reserve in St. John the Baptist Parish.
Cassidy said emphasized the need for emergency assistance for those affected by Hurricane Ida. He also stressed the need for Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery supplemental assistance for needs related to Ida, and the 2020 hurricanes that affected Louisiana.
The president looked at debris and battered homes from a helicopter that landed in Reserve. He joined Congressmen Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, and Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, for a motorcade to LaPlace. The SUVs drove past downed trees, tumbled power lines and tarp covered houses.
On Cambridge Drive, Patrick Williams was helping his fellow Zulu and Mason member David Jefferson siphon a foot of water out of his sunken living room inside the Secret Service lockdown zone.
Jefferson rode out hours of the storm inside the house with the winds blowing "like a freight train" outside.
He and Williams joked with a Secret Service agent as a helicopter circled overhead.
Jefferson saw the president's visit as an opportunity to speed up construction of a back levee planned to prevent surges from Lake Pontchartrain before another storm.
"Hopefully, he can help them to put that levee back there," said Jefferson, a band teacher at East Saint John High School. "We don't know if it'll be three years before another good one comes through."
At St. John the Baptist Parish Executive Operations Center in LaPlace, Biden was briefed by local officials around horseshoe shaped table with maps of Louisiana and aerial photographs on the wall.
Biden said he understood the frustration about the lack of power, adding he’s working with power management companies.
Biden used the event to pitch the reconciliation bill and his infrastructure plan.
“You know I get kind of beat up, criticized,” Biden said. “Things have changed so drastically in terms of the environment. You’ve already crossed a certain threshold. You can’t build back a road, a highway, or a bridge to what it was before. You’ve ego to build back to what it is now.”
The president also mentioned the $500 FEMA checks that go directly to storm survivors. “Sometimes it’s just what you need that moment that can make a difference,” he said.
After speaking with the press, Biden met behind closed doors with officials. Biden's entourage left after meeting for about half hour with officials and toured the Cambridge neighborhood of LaPlace with Gov. Edwards.
Wearing a baseball cap and a mask, Biden greeted a family outside a nearby house covered by a giant blue tarp and surrounded by downed trees cut by a chainsaw. He hugged family member and shook hands with a little girl who looked awestruck. He then posed for a photo.
The president then walked on the sidewalk to another home, in whose lawn rested a giant uprooted tree. He greeted a family outside the neighboring house and shook hands with a teenage boy. The family’s open garage stood behind a blue tent and housed gas containers, propane tanks, and trash cans.
The president will take an aerial tour of towns of Jean Lafitte and Grand Isle. He’ll go over Port Fourchon and south Lafourche Parish. He’ll meet with community leaders in Galliano.
Friday night, he'll fly out of Lafourche back to New Orleans. From New Orleans, he'll fly to Philadelphia and then Delaware.
Noah Robertson of The Christian Science Monitor contributed to this report.
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