Hurricane Laura: Donald Trump visits storm-lashed Louisiana and Texas
Donald Trump got a first-hand look on Saturday at hurricane damage to south-west Louisiana, two days after Hurricane Laura roared in off the Gulf of Mexico with winds up to 150mph, killing at least 15 people, knocking out power and causing extensive flooding and lack of running water across several towns.
After arriving at Lake Charles before meeting with politicians and emergency workers and a second, scheduled stop in Orange county, Texas, Trump said: “I’m here to support the great people of Louisiana. It was a tremendously powerful storm.”
He added that he knows one thing about the state: “They rebuild it fast.”
After visiting members of the Cajun Navy volunteer rescue organisation, the president later sat in sweltering heat to listen to state and federal officials, including Louisiana’s Republican governor, John Bel Edwards, describe extensive storm damage, smashed houses, downed power lines and trees, and debris strewn across the city of 80,000 people.
“I know one thing: that we’ll provide a lot of what the call the green,” Trump said as he described federal support that would be made available after Louisiana’s request for a major disaster declaration in 23 parishes was approved on Friday. “We’re going to have this situation taken care of quickly.”
In a statement, Edwards said the devastation and damage stretch all the way to northern parts of Louisiana.
Officials said 400,000 were without power on Saturday morning and 200,000 without water.
But despite the death and destruction, Trump could not resist on Saturday afternoon playing the joking, celebrity president.
He handed out pens and signed pieces of paper for a handful of officials, saying: “Come here fellas” then telling each man he handed the souvenirs to: “You can sell this tonight on eBay. Who’s going to get this one? Sell it tonight on eBay. $10,000.”
On Saturday, more than 40 million Americans up the eastern seaboard as far north as Connecticut, were braced for fierce weather stirred by Laura’s tail, with winds over 60mph and torrential rain forecast.
Wind damage in Louisiana was widespread, with roofs blown off homes and windows smashed. Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power or clean water, but forecasts that the storm would inundate the state’s sixth largest city, Lake Charles, with as much as 20 feet of floodwater were not realized.
Firefighters were still battling a chemical fire at a chlorine plant near the city on Friday, a day after the blaze was temporarily extinguished.
Meteorologists also said the monster storm could have wreaked much more destruction than it did.
The storm was still devastating, but not quite as catastrophic as it might have been. ”It was really, really bad instead of apocalyptic,” a Colorado State University hurricane researcher, Phil Klotzbach, said.
Jamie Rhome, a National Hurricane Center storm surge specialist, referred to a small last-minute course change as the “little wobble” that saved Lake Charles from worse impact. In the end, the city got maybe half the storm surge it could have received, he said.
Houston and the rest of eastern Texas also dodged a bullet after fears that the region could be hit as badly as from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Authorities had warned before landfall of an “unsurvivable” storm surge for a wide region.
Others said swift evacuation of the local population also contributed to the relatively light loss of life.
“I’m pretty much a cynic and a critic, but I think these parishes did wonderfully,” said Shirley Laska, a sociologist who studied Louisiana disasters at the University of New Orleans. “And I mean both the citizens and the leaders,” Laska said. “But they got out of ‘Dodge’. They evacuated as they were told.” Laska said she believed the months-long coronavirus pandemic helped make everyone more attentive to risk. Added to that was tropical storm Marco, which threatened the region only a few days earlier and then fizzled.