NEW ORLEANS (REUTERS) - US President Joe Biden visited Louisiana on Friday (Sept 3) 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 a 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 US 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.
Hurricane Ida 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.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Friday said the state had confirmed an additional two deaths overnight, bringing its death toll to 25, and 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, adding that his biggest concern following the wreckage was grappling with remaining high waters and damage.
"We're going to clean up... but it may be a long road."
Biden went to LaPlace, a small community about 50km west of New Orleans that was devastated by flooding, downed trees and other storm damage.
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 centres.
At Biden's direction, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Thursday authorised an exchange of 1.5 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to Exxon Mobil to relieve fuel disruptions in the wake of the hurricane.
Several refineries remained cut off from crude and products supplies from the south via ship and barge after portions of the Mississippi River were closed by several sunken vessels.
While Louisiana tried to recover from the storm, the New York area was still dealing with crippling floods from Ida.
People across large swathes of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut spent Thursday coping with water-logged basements, power outages, damaged roofs and calls for help from friends and relatives stranded by flooding.
At least 16 have 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.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told MSNBC on Friday that there would be a need to implement travel bans and evacuations more frequently ahead of storms.
"We've got to change the whole way of thinking" in how to prepare for storms, de Blasio said. "We're going to need them to do things differently."
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.