Hurricane Ida has destroyed many commercial sections of LaPlace, La. (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)
President Joe Biden arrived in Louisiana Friday afternoon to assess Hurricane Ida’s aftermath and speak to residents in some of the region’s hardest-hit areas.
Upon Air Force One’s landing at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, the president was welcomed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy and Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican Whip, according to pool video footage.
After exchanging greetings, Biden travelled directly to St. John the Baptist Parish where he was briefed by state and local officials, according to the video. Accompanying him was Senior Advisor Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans-native and former representative to Louisiana’s Second Congressional District, whom Biden has tapped to lead the federal government’s response to the storm.
Biden’s first stop was a severely-damaged subdivision in LaPlace. The president got an up-close view of the downed utility poles and uprooted trees, homes with torn roofs and flooded interiors, and the seemingly endless amount of debris strewn about the ground, pool video showed. He stopped at several homes to speak privately with residents trying to clean up.
At a brief press conference, Biden addressed some of the primary challenges facing the recovery effort such as the fuel shortage, insurance coverage denials and the region’s power grid.
“This isn’t about being a Democrat or Republican,” Biden said in the video. “We’re Americans and we’re going to get through this together.”
The president said he has authorized a release of fuel supplies from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve and is “expanding the supply of gasoline that can be sold in the State of Louisiana,” referring to action he took Thursday loosening regulations to allow waivers for businesses to sell gasolines that don’t necessarily meet strict Clean Air Act standards, according to the EPA.
The same waivers were granted in Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border in 2017.
Biden said he heard reports of homeowners being denied insurance coverage for their living expenses accumulated during evacuation. The insurance companies reportedly based those denials on the fact that state and local officials issued voluntary evacuations rather than mandatory evacuations, he said in the video, adding that his administration is “putting as much pressure as we can” on the companies.
The president pointed out that the storm strengthened so quickly that it left no time for authorities to issue mandatory evacuations and said the residents who evacuated did so because the storm posed a risk to their lives.
“No one fled this killer storm because they were looking for a vacation or a road trip,” Biden said according to pool reports. “There’s nothing voluntary about that.”
Biden acknowledged the frustratingly-long wait times for electricity to be restored to much of Southeast Louisiana but said utility crews are doing “dangerous” work. He pointed out that two utility linemen died Tuesday in Alabama while working to restore power lost during Hurricane Ida.
Plugging his administration’s $3.5 billion infrastructure initiative, the president, according to the footage, said “old wooden telephone poles” being used to span electrical lines could be retired in favor of modern underground infrastructure that better withstands hurricanes. The infrastructure bill is working its way through congress but recently received pushback from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Va.), a moderate who aligns with conservatives on some issues.
“We’ve got to build back better,” Biden said in the video. “We’ve got to build back more resiliently.”
In addition to visiting LaPlace, the president’s agenda had plans for a flyover tour of other hard-hit areas such as Grand Idle, Lafitte and Port Fourchon, where the storm first made landfall Sunday as a Category 4.
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