Biden visits Louisiana to see Hurricane Ida damage as New Jersey death toll rises
U.S. government working '24/7' to restore power in affected areas, president says
U.S. President Joe Biden visited Louisiana on Friday to get a first-hand look at the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ida, the monster storm that devastated the southern portion of the state and left one million people without power.
Biden met with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and local officials about the hurricane, providing the president with a tough test just after the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
The fifth most powerful hurricane to strike the United States came ashore in southern Louisiana on Sunday, knocking out power for more than a million customers and water for another 600,000 people, creating miserable conditions for the afflicted, who were also enduring suffocating heat and humidity.
The hurricane struck the Gulf coast and carved a northern path through the eastern United States, culminating in torrential rains and widespread flooding in New York, New Jersey and surrounding areas. At least nine deaths were reported in Louisiana, with at least another 46 killed along the East Coast.
"This storm has been incredible, not only here but all over the East Coast," Biden said during a meeting with officials.
"I know you've got to be frustrated about the restoration of power," he said, adding the government was working "24/7" with electric companies and supplying generators.
Power restoration efforts continue
The number of homes and businesses without power in Louisiana fell to around 823,000 on Friday as electric utility Entergy Corp said it had restored service to about 225,000 customers.
While Biden toured Louisiana, the New York area was still dealing with crippling floods from Ida.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday said the state had confirmed an additional two deaths overnight, bringing its total to 25. He said at least six people were still missing, meaning the death toll would likely climb.
"We're still not out of the woods," he told NBC News' Today program, adding that his biggest concern following the wreckage was grappling with remaining high water and damage. "We're going to clean up … but it may be a long road."
Biden went to LaPlace, La., a small community about 56 kilometres west of New Orleans that was devastated by flooding, downed trees and other storm damage.
He was scheduled to take an aerial tour of hard-hit Louisiana communities, including Laffite, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and Lafourche Parish, before meeting with local leaders in Galliano, the White House said.
Officials who have flown over the storm damage reported astounding scenes of small towns turned into piles of matchsticks and massive vessels hurled about by the wind.
Edwards said he would present Biden with a list of needs, including fuel shipments, as most of the area's refining capacity was knocked offline and long lines have formed at gas stations and emergency supply distribution centres.
Biden advocated for his infrastructure legislation during the trip, citing the need to invest in burying power lines underground.
"We know if it's underground it will cost a hell of a lot more money. But guess what, it saves a hell of a lot more money long term," he said.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican who represents Louisiana, said he and Biden discussed the issue.
"We agreed putting power lines beneath the ground would have avoided all of this. The infrastructure bill has billions for grid resiliency," he tweeted.
Coping with flood damage
People across large swaths of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut spent Thursday coping with water-logged basements, power outages, damaged roofs and calls for help from friends and relatives stranded by flooding.
At least 16 have died in the state of New York, officials said, including 13 in New York City, where deaths of people trapped in flooded basements highlighted the risk of increasingly extreme weather events.
Biden approved an emergency declaration in New Jersey and New York and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts, the White House said.
WATCH | New Yorkers who escaped Ida's wrath fear future storms: