Obama Visits Flood Ravaged Baton Rouge, La.

Aug 23, 2016
Originally published on August 23, 2016 7:52 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Obama toured a flood-soaked neighborhood in East Baton Rouge today. He promised residents they won't be forgotten. More than 100,000 people in Louisiana have applied for federal help after deadly storms that dumped a year's worth of rain in just a few days, swamping a large part of the state. Obama's visit comes after some criticism he didn't cut his vacation short to go to Baton Rouge and also follows a trip by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to the city. NPR's Scott Horsley was with the president today, and he's with us now. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So what did the president see today?

HORSLEY: President Obama toured a subdivision in the East Baton Rouge Parish called Castle Place. That's a tidy neighborhood of single-story brick houses. And two weeks ago, it was inundated with 4 to 6 feet of water. Today, outside each house there was a pile of saturated carpeting, drywall, soiled furniture, other belongings. But as he walked along that street, the president talked to victims, and he found some reason for encouragement. He heard from neighbors who were helping neighbors saying they're determined to overcome this. The president said we've seen in the past how resilient Louisiana residents are, and he's confident they will rebuild again.

MCEVERS: President Obama tried to reassure flood victims that the federal government will stand behind them during this recovery. What did he mean by that?

HORSLEY: Well, the scale of this disaster, Kelly, is really striking. I mean, 100,000-plus people have applied for federal disaster aid. Some 60,000 homes have been damaged. Already FEMA has OK'd $120 million worth of short-term disaster relief. But that's just the beginning. And this cleanup, the president said, is going to take a lot of time and a lot of resources.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Sometimes when these kinds of things happen, it can seem a little bit too much to bear. But what I want the people of Louisiana to know is that you're not alone on this. Even after the TV cameras leave, the whole country is going to continue to support you and help you until we get folks back in their homes and lives are rebuilt.

HORSLEY: And that's important because most of the victims here were not insured for flood damage.

MCEVERS: A disaster like this can be politically difficult for a president, right? I mean, we all remember how, you know, President George W. Bush at the time - his approval rating suffered after Hurricane Katrina and the federal response that was widely seen as inadequate. What's at stake for Obama politically?

HORSLEY: Well, as you mentioned, he's already gotten some criticism for not cutting short his family vacation last week to visit this area sooner. Donald Trump was here last week. Aides say Obama was getting regular updates while he was in Martha's Vineyard, and he did dispatch his homeland security secretary to Louisiana as well as the FEMA chief, Craig Fugate. The president was accompanied by Fugate this afternoon. He says one of the advantages of being in the waning months of his presidency is he doesn't have to worry much about politics.

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OBAMA: I guarantee you nobody on this block, none those first responders - nobody gives a hoot whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. What they care about is making sure they're getting the drywall out and the carpet out and there's not any mold building, they get some contractors in here and they start rebuilding as quick as possible. That's what they care about. That's what I care about.

HORSLEY: While he's in Louisiana, though, the president will wade into another politically dicey area. He's meeting with the family of Alton Sterling, the African-American man who was shot and killed this summer by police in Baton Rouge, as well as the families of some Baton Rouge-area law officers who were killed or wounded in that subsequent ambush.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks a lot, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.