Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Storm moves along, politicians arrive

ST. LOUIS — As Gulf Coast residents confronted a waterlogged landscape of flooded homes and debris-covered streets Friday, tatters of what had been Hurricane Isaac blew toward the parched Midwest, dumping more than a foot of rain, causing flash floods and leaving thousands of people without power.

Heavy rains overwhelmed drainage systems in parts of Arkansas, flooding roads and prompting some emergency rescues. But after a scorching summer, dry soil and low-flowing rivers and streams appeared to be absorbing much of the rain, officials said.

"We've been in a pretty bad drought, and a lot of this rain is being soaked up," said Jayson Gosselin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Weldon Spring, Mo.

Emergency crews in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois have been bracing for a weekend of heavy rains and lashing winds, sandbagging homes and businesses, and preparing to close roads.

It was the messy denouement of a soaking storm that had poured as much as 2 feet of water across parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.

On Friday, the death toll rose to six when officials in Plaquemines Parish, La., announced they had found the bodies of a middle-aged man and woman in the kitchen of their flooded home.

As waters receded from some neighborhoods on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, officials were slowly restoring electricity to thousands.

Also Friday, the intensifying presidential campaign arrived in full force as Mitt Romney toured damaged areas, his visit drawing attacks from several leading Democrats who said his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan had tried to block disaster relief funds last fall.

The White House announced Friday that President Obama would visit the area on Monday.

Romney made his trip the day after the Republican National Convention; Obama's visit will come the day before the Democrats' convention, raising questions about whether both sides were using Louisiana as a political photo opportunity.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.

Stuart Stevens, Romney's top political strategist, dismissed the criticism, noting that Romney has been in touch with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, both Republicans, and came to Louisiana at Jindal's invitation.

Obama planned "to meet with local officials and view ongoing response and recovery efforts to Hurricane Isaac," the White House said. Because of that trip, Obama canceled a planned campaign visit to Cleveland as part of a tour of swing states ahead of the Sept. 4-6 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. But he was sticking with the rest of a three-day trip starting today to Iowa, Colorado and Toledo, Ohio.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday aboard Air Force One that Obama's trip to Louisiana was planned before Romney announced his own visit.

Romney met with residents and local officials in the town of Lafitte.

"We really appreciate you coming here," Jindal said.

"I appreciate the chance to be here," Romney replied. "I have a lot of questions for you." The two discussed evacuation procedures and the contributions of aid organizations. "Did the water come from the sky, or the rivers, or the ocean?" Romney asked. Jindal's response was not audible to reporters.

Information from the New York Times and Washington Post was used in this report.

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