Romney Visits Storm-Ravaged Louisiana, Obama on His Way
By Joe Sterling and Lateef Mungin, CNN
(CNN) — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney got a close-up view Friday of flood and other damage in Louisiana caused this week by what was once Hurricane Isaac, with President Barack Obama soon to follow.
Romney was in the state on Friday and Obama was canceling a Monday trip to Cleveland to make his visit.
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal lauded their gestures.
“We’re thrilled that Gov. Romney is coming today. We’re thrilled that President Obama is coming on Monday,” Jindal said Friday. “We welcome them both.”
Speaking to reporters, Jindal said the men were focused on recovery efforts, not politics.
“There’s no time for partisan politics in Louisiana at this point in time,” Jindal said.
Jindal thanked the administration for sending the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, to Louisiana. He said his presence helped expedite approval for more federal help.
The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, announced Thursday that federal aid has been made available for the state to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
Obama will meet with officials dealing with Isaac’s impact and “making sure that unmet needs are being met and that the federal response led by FEMA is helping citizens in the affected areas and the state and local officials who are responding to the storm,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
At the start of his speech to troops in Fort Bliss, Texas, the president vowed the federal government will “keep doing everything that it can” to help those suffering due to the storm.
“As a country, we stand united with our fellow Americans in their time of need,” Obama said.
Also on Friday, his presidential foe Romney met with Jindal and Sen. David Vitter in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish, where flooding and downed trees were visible on the roadside.
The former Massachusetts governor, who was accompanied by his wife, Ann, said that the trip was “to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what’s going [on] here… so that people around the country know that people down here need help.”
Mary Landrieu, the Democratic senator from Louisiana, hours earlier made reference to Romney’s trip at a news conference in Plaquemines Parish.
She said she hopes the Republican nominee will realize the importance of the Army Corps of Engineers and its projects that tackle hurricanes and storm damage, calling the agency’s budget “underfunded.”
“Two billion dollars is not nearly enough new investment in core infrastructure for our nation, so one of the things I hope (Romney) sees firsthand when he’s here is that. I realize he’s all about cutting the federal budget, but this is one agency that absolutely cannot take any additional cuts,” she said.
Isaac made landfall on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Louisiana seven years ago. That hurricane churned through the Gulf of Mexico and overwhelmed levees, resulting in 1,800 deaths.
This week’s storm was less powerful, but packed a punch as it crawled inland. At least four people have been killed, authorities said. And about 630,000 customers remained without electricity Friday across Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, utility companies said.
The weakened storm, having weakened to a tropical depression, is expected to move over southern Missouri later in the day after first slamming into the Gulf Coast as a Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday.
On Friday, the storm was centered about 25 miles northeast of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and flood and flash flood warnings were in effect in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Isaac will bring heavy rainfall as it heads northeast into the Ohio River Valley on Saturday.
Communities were cleaning up and restoring services. And step by step, the Gulf Coast was working to get back to normal.
“It’s just people helping people,” Eileen Romero, a CNN iReporter in New Orleans who was also in the city during Katrina, said of those out to clean the streets and help one another. “We’ve been through this before, and we’re just grateful (it wasn’t worse). … It’s a beautiful kind of thing.”
On Friday, the Coast Guard captain at the New Orleans port reopened the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge to the mouth of the river, to limited vessel traffic.
“Although the Mississippi River was heavily impacted by the storm, the navigational channel is in good condition. The Coast Guard is working with the maritime industry to respond to a number of ship groundings and barge strandings along the riverbank caused by the river surge and high winds of the storm,” the Coast Guard said.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport officials said Friday that flights had resumed and commercial power had been restored.
But high water still bedeviled communities.
“This is unbelievable. Deja vu, man,” Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, said Thursday as he surveyed the town of Ironton, which was inundated by floodwater and sludge. “There is more water here than Katrina.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu underscored that point, saying just because the storm came in as a Category 1 doesn’t mean it’s impact was that much less.
“There are some individuals in the metropolitan area of New Orleans that have suffered damages in excess of what they suffered during Katrina,” Landrieu said.
In Plaquemines Parish, officials intentionally breached a levee to help drain floodwater in nearby communities.
The bodies of a man and woman were found in 7 feet of water in the kitchen of a home in the parish, officials said late Thursday. An autopsy will determine the cause of the death for the couple, described as being in their 40s, Nungesser said.
In the lower part of the parish, CNN affiliate WWL showed footage of rescue crews using an ax to break into the attic of a home — the only part of the house not submerged — and pulling out 70-year-old Fred Leslie and his four dogs. Leslie said he rebuilt after Katrina destroyed his home, but has no plans to do so again.
“It seemed like 5 minutes the … thing was six feet deep,” he said of the fast-rising water. “I didn’t think it would happen again.”
In St. Tammany Parish, a Slidell resident was killed while driving through four feet of floodwater, state police said.
Ascension Parish announced voluntary evacuations for parts of the region.
Jindal praised the selfless actions of people. He cited a caretaker who stayed behind to help nursing home patients despite losing homes during Isaac and Katrina.
“I’m in awe of the generosity and resilience of the people,” he said.
In Mississippi, the storm had a “major impact,” Gov. Phil Bryant said. A tow truck driver attempting to clear debris on a road was struck and killed by a falling tree, officials said.
The National Weather Service office in Little Rock, Arkansas, said four to six inches fell in various locations and noted winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour.
“Higher gusts downed some trees/tree limbs, and there were power outages reported. The tree damage was partly due to existing drought conditions and a lack of ground water. Many trees were in a weakened state. This made them more susceptible to gusty conditions,” the weather service said on its website.
CNN’s Brian Todd and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.