DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (AP) — Donald Trump and running mate Mike Pence traveled to a flood-ravaged section of southern Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage that killed at least 13 people and displaced thousands more.
Trump was greeted enthusiastically by exhausted and frustrated residents, just beginning the arduous process of rebuilding their lives after a torrent of about 2 feet of rain inundated the southern part of the state.
In the city of Denham Springs, where the insides of homes were now outside on front lawns, Trump shook hands with several residents who cheered his arrival.
“We’re glad you’re not playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard,” one woman told him, a jab at President Barack Obama.
“Somebody is, somebody is that shouldn’t be,” Trump replied.
He’d told reporters earlier that he believed the president should be there, echoing calls from residents and The Advocate newspaper for the president to interrupt his two-week vacation to make an appearance.
The White House said Friday afternoon that Obama would travel to Louisiana on Tuesday.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s glad Obama waited to visit because the security requirements and highway closures “won’t have the adverse impact it would have if it had been this week.”
“We welcome the president anytime he wants to visit, and I’m glad he waited until Tuesday because the recovery will be started in earnest,” Edwards said.
Trump’s own visit was a departure for the candidate, who has largely avoided the kind of unscripted, intimate interactions that power most candidates’ early primary campaigns. His campaign has been dominated by outrageous comments, insults and controversies, but on Friday he visited with residents and volunteers, signed hats and briefly helped unload a truck of supplies for disaster victims.
Among his stops was the flood-ravaged home of Jimmy and Olive Morgan in Denham Springs, where floodwaters were still being swept up and wheelbarrows carried out waterlogged computer equipment. A ruined couch, chair and bedroom furniture were heaped on the lawn.
“I spent my birthday on the roof,” said Jimmy Morgan, who turned 79 the day water inundated his house.
Asked by Trump about whether he’ll rebuild, Jimmy Morgan replied: “I Just don’t know what we’ll do.”
Trump gave Jimmy Morgan and his wife each a hug, telling them: “You’re going to rebuild. It’s going to be so beautiful.”
Shortly after arriving, Trump’s motorcade drove through the hard-hit community of Central in East Baton Rouge Parish, where ripped up carpet and flooring, furniture and the entire contents of homes were piled on the curb.
People who were still mucking out their houses came out to wave at the motorcade with dirty, gloved hands.
The first stop was a Baptist Church in a heavily-damaged portion of East Baton Rouge Parish, where Trump met the Rev. Franklin Graham; Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, whose own home was flooded; and a group of volunteers cooking meals and helping the elderly gut their homes.
Perkins also chastised Obama for being “too busy on vacation” to visit Louisiana.
However, a spokesman for the governor dismissed Trump’s visit as a “photo-op.”
“Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement.
In a Facebook post, Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton said she called the governor to discuss the situation. And she said the state’s relief effort “can’t afford any distractions.”
“The very best way this team can help is to make sure Louisianans have the resources they need,” she said.
Trump and Pence also visited Denham Springs High School, where principal Kelly Jones showed them the flooded gym. Wood floors had buckled into wave-like patterns after three feet of water swamped the building.
They ended the trip in St. Amant in Ascension Parish, where Trump saw photos of the flooding, briefly helped unload a truck of supplies for and told National Guard members they were doing good work.
Mark Stermer, the pastor of a local church, told Trump of “the devastation here and the pain.”
“Any great leader’s going to want to put his feet on the ground,” Stermer said.