Trump visits Louisiana amid worst flooding since Superstorm Sandy

Residents are rescued in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, U.S., August 15, 2016. © Jonathan Bachman
With at least 13 people dead and some 40,000 homes damaged by flooding in Louisiana, the Red Cross has called the resulting devastation the worst US disaster since the 2012 Hurricane Sandy. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is visiting the state.

The Red Cross said Thursday that it has served about 100,000 meals and snacks at shelters housing flood victims in several Louisiana parishes reeling from record rainfall that began about a week ago, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. The relief organization said that it expects to spend about $30 million amid flood recovery efforts, adding that Louisiana flooding in the past week has triggered the largest Red Cross response in the US since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

"Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now," said Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross' vice president of disaster services operations and logistics, according to CNN. 

At least 13 people have died in the flooding, while an estimated 40,000 homes have suffered at least some damage. More than 30,000 residents and 1,400 pets have been assisted in vacating flooded areas by the US Coast Guard, National Guard, emergency responders, and others.

More than 4,000 people are still in shelters, an approximately 50-percent drop since late Wednesday, the Times-Picayune reported, though many of those leaving shelters still cannot access their homes and may be going elsewhere for housing. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Thursday that discussions over longer-term temporary housing are materializing, but any such plan will come with many complications given the scope of flooding devastation in the state.

"We can't get the right mix determined until we know more about the population that is affected," Edwards said. "When we have a better feel, we will know whether and how many manufactured housing units to order."

Flood waters in some areas have receded while water is rising in other spots, including southern Ascension Parish as well as St. James, Acadia, Jefferson Davis, and possibly St. John the Baptist, according to the Times-Picayune. A flood warning for the Baton Rouge area will continue through Friday afternoon.

"As I've been saying for six days now, this is ongoing event," Edwards said Thursday during a news conference.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the state on Thursday following a visit earlier in the week by Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate. About 950 FEMA workers are in Louisiana, with about 750 on the way, the Times-Picayune reported. More staff could arrive in the future, Johnson said. 

About 86,000 people have registered for flood relief from FEMA. Gov. Edwards said the first round of FEMA should arrive to recipients in the next 48 hours.

Twenty state parishes have been declared disaster areas by the Obama administration.

President Obama is "closely monitoring the situation," Secretary Johnson said on Thursday amid some calls for the president to leave his vacation at Martha's Vineyard to visit Louisiana. 

"When you are the chief executive of the US government, you can't be everywhere, including places you would like to be," Johnson said. Gov. Edwards, meanwhile, said that while the "president is welcome to visit whenever he wants to visit," he would prefer Obama wait to arrive in the state, as his security detail and motorcade could complicate relief efforts.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are scheduled to tour flood damage on Friday. Richard Carbo, a spokesman for Gov. Edwards said Trump is welcome to visit, "but not for a photo-op," the Times-Picayune reported. Carbo added that Trump should "consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm."