WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump got a first-hand look at the damage caused by Hurricane Laura on Saturday on a post-Republican National Convention trip that allowed him to try to project empathy and leadership.
Their stops, first in Louisiana and then Texas, came two days after the Category 4 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, killing at least 16 people and wreaking havoc with high winds and flooding.
While the storm surge has receded and the cleanup effort has begun, hundreds of thousands remain without power or water, and could do so for weeks or months as the hot summer progresses.
“I am here to support the great people of Louisiana. It’s been a great state for me, ”she said in Lake Charles. He added that he knows one thing about the state: “They rebuild it fast.”
During the little more than two hours he spent in the city, Trump met with officials and humanitarian workers, but not with any of the residents whose homes had been destroyed by the storm.
However, he got a good look at the extensive damage and debris strewn across the city of 80,000 people, starting with the bird’s eye view of Air Force One when it landed.
Hurricane Laura devastated several areas of this Louisiana resort town.
His first stop was a warehouse that is used as a staging area for the Cajun Navy, a group of Louisiana volunteers who help with search and rescue after hurricanes and floods. “Good job,” Trump told them.
Then Trump toured a neighborhood with Governor John Bel Edwards and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and walked down a street blocked by felled trees and where houses were hit by the hurricane, one with the entire roof ripped off.
Edwards has said that Laura was the most powerful hurricane to ever hit his state, surpassing even Hurricane Katrina, which was Category 3 when it struck almost exactly 15 years ago.
In Photos: Laura Leaves Massive Damage in Lake Charles
“Whether you come from Louisiana or Fifth Avenue in New York, you know about Katrina,” Trump said.
Then the president flew by helicopter to Orange, Texas, which was the worst-hit area in the state. Several hundred supporters greeted his arrival with Trump 2020 flags, banners and posters.
Officials present included Texas Governor Greg Abbott and US Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Before an air tour of the damaged areas, Trump and other officials visited the emergency operations center in Orange County to discuss the damage caused by the storm and the government’s response.
Stephanie Abrams had to run to avoid being hit by the damage caused by the hurricane’s winds.
Trump has at times struggled with his role as chief comforter, not projecting empathy when visiting regions hard hit by tragedy and disaster. That includes in Puerto Rico, where Trump was photographed tossing rolls of paper towels at the crowd, which some saw as inappropriately playful under the circumstances.
During a trip to the Carolinas in 2018, Trump marveled at a yacht that had been washed away by flood waters onto a family’s property and told them, “At least you got a good boat.” And he was caught on camera telling a person to whom he had given food to “have a good time.”
At other times, Trump has been a source of comfort. After a powerful tornado hit Alabama last year and killed nearly two dozen people, Trump spent time with families who had lost loved ones, listening to their stories and hugging them.
NASA images show the storm over the Gulf of Mexico.
Showing empathy comes naturally to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, who released a statement Saturday saying he and his wife were praying for those injured by the storm and promising that “we will be there to help him rebuild better.”
In a possible subtle comment, Biden praised the response of families in hurricane-struck states and thanked them for “reminding Americans that no disaster, no person, no injustice can match the humble, personal, and courageous ways that people choose. Americans to show decency every day. “
The hurricane also killed nearly two dozen people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as it headed toward the United States.