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Touring hurricane-hit Louisiana, Biden cites 'incredible' storm, pitches infrastructure fix

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By Reuters
Touring hurricane-hit Louisiana, Biden cites 'incredible' storm, pitches infrastructure fix
Touring hurricane-hit Louisiana, Biden cites 'incredible' storm, pitches infrastructure fix   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021
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By Andrea Shalal and Devika Krishna Kumar

LAPLACE/NEWORLEANS, La. – 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 1 million people without power.

Biden met Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and local officials about the hurricane, which is 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 on Wednesday 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 in the Northeast.

“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.

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 Governor Phil Murphy on Friday said at least six people were still missing, meaning the death toll would likely climb higher.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” he told NBC News’ “Today” programme. “We’re going to clean up … but it may be a long road.”

Biden went to LaPlace, a small community about 35 miles west of New Orleans that was devastated by flooding and other storm damage, touring a neighbourhood with uprooted trees and debris.

He was scheduled to take an aerial tour of hard-hit communities, including Laffite, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and Lafourche Parish, before meeting with local leaders in Galliano, Louisiana, 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 long list of needs including fuel shipments as most of the area’s refining capacity was knocked offline and mile-long lines have formed at gas stations and emergency supply distribution centers.

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 lot more money. But guess what, it saves a hell of a lot more money long term,” he said.

U.S. Senator 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,” Cassidy said in a tweet.

People across large swaths of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are coping with water-logged basements, power outages and damaged roofs.

    At least 16 people 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.