Trump, Pence Tour LA Flooding, Obama Set to Visit Next Week


U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his running mate toured flood-damaged Louisiana on Friday, despite the Democratic state governor's urging not to make political stops in areas affected by recent deadly rains.

President Barack Obama said he was also eager for a firsthand look at the damage done by floods that damaged some 40,000 homes and killed at least 13 people, announcing plans to visit to Baton Rouge on Tuesday.

Trump criticized Obama's absence after his motorcade drove past piles of possessions and building materials that had been ripped out of flooded homes en route to Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in a hard-hit portion of East Baton Rouge Parish.

"You're going to be fine," Trump told several dozen supporters gathered outside, many asking for autographs and selfies.

The deluge that dumped more than 2-1/2 feet (0.76 meter) on parts of Louisiana has been described as the worst U.S. disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Trump told reporters he came to help out. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards' office, however, had said Trump did not call to discuss plans.

"We welcome him to (Louisiana), but not for a photo op," the governor's office said in a statement, urging Trump to volunteer or make "a sizable donation."

Yet Kellie Michelli, who lost her home in the flood and was also at the church to pick up food with her family, beamed as she showed off an autograph on a Trump hat from an earlier rally in Baton Rouge.

"He took time out of his busy schedule to come here," Michelli said. "I don't care if he gives a nickel, he showed he cared by coming here."

Trump told reporters he agreed with some people in Louisiana who have urged President Barack Obama to cut short a vacation on Martha's Vineyard in New England to visit and view the flood devastation.

Obama's vacation is due to end on Sunday. Edwards has said that he would prefer the president wait a few weeks before visiting, as the huge presidential security undertaking involved would interfere with recovery efforts.

"The president is mindful of the impact that his travel has on first responders and wants to ensure that his presence does not interfere with ongoing recovery efforts," the White House said in a statement.

Obama planned to visit Baton Rouge, the state's capital city, where many neighborhoods were hard hit by the flooding. The White House said he would talk to local officials about what more the federal government can do to assist in the recovery.

The president has declared much of the state a federal disaster, freeing up emergency resources.

He has been receiving updates from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, who both have visited Louisiana.

In 2005, then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, drew criticism for flying over extensively damaged New Orleans, Louisiana, and then giving a speech in the still-flooded city following Hurricane Katrina.

Some 86,500 people have already filed for federal aid following the historic levels of rainfall, while thousands have sought refuge in shelters. Entire neighborhoods must now contend with flood-hit homes.

Trump's vice presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, was also on the ground on Friday touring flood-ravaged areas of a state that is typically a Republican stronghold in presidential elections.

Trump's campaign team was changed again on Friday when Paul Manafort resigned as chairman days after the candidate effectively demoted him in a leadership shake-up.

Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival in the Nov. 8 election, said on social media that she had spoken with the governor by phone on Friday, and the flooding was worse than expected.

"My heart breaks for Louisiana, and right now, the relief effort can't afford any distractions," she said on Facebook, directing people to support organizations providing assistance.

(Additional reporting by Sam Karlin in St. Amant, La., Ginger Gibson and Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina, Susan Heavey and David Alexander in Washington, Fiona Oritz in Chicago and Roberta Rampton in Edgartown, Mass.; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis)