WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and speak with local and state leaders, the White House said Wednesday. Biden will also deliver a speech Thursday outlining his administration's response to the storm.
Ida was the fifth most powerful storm to strike the U.S. when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 150 mph (240 kph), likely causing tens of billions of dollars in flood, wind and other damage, including to the electrical grid.
More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi were without power after Ida toppled a major transmission tower and knocked out thousands of miles of lines and hundreds of substations. New Orleans was plunged into total darkness at one point; power began returning to the city on Wednesday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “absolutely would not” visit Louisiana if his presence would take away from relief efforts.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards suggested the visit would be crucial for the president to understand the destruction by seeing the widespread damage for himself.
“There’s nothing quite like visiting in person,” Edwards told reporters Wednesday following a briefing with local elected officials in Jefferson Parish, which took direct blows from Ida. “When you see it for yourself, it is just so much more compelling.”
Asked what type of assistance he planned to request from Biden, Edwards said, “Quite frankly, the list is going to be very, very long.” But he said a priority would be for a housing program to help people rebuild.
The White House says Biden has been getting regular updates on the storm and its aftermath. He has held several conference calls with governors and local officials to discuss preparations and needs after the storm, and has received briefings from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
FEMA had sent tons of supplies, including generators, tarps and other materials to the region before the storm, and federal response teams are working on search and rescue.
Authorities blame the storm for at least six deaths.
Biden's trip Friday to the Gulf region will cap a difficult stretch for the president, who oversaw the chaotic exit of the U.S. military from Afghanistan after a 20-year engagement. That included the deaths of 13 U.S. service members helping evacuate more than 120,000 Americans, Afghan allies and others fleeing life under Taliban rule.
As Ida bore down on the Gulf Coast on Sunday, Biden was at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of the remains of the 13 U.S. servicemen and women who were killed in suicide bombing last week at Afghanistan's airport in Kabul, where the evacuations were taking place.
Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.