Terry Phinney was not always a fan of Donald Trump’s, but when the Republican presidential candidate arrived at his Baptist church to meet flood victims Friday, Phinney was impressed.
“It was a good little boost for folks who are tired,” said Phinney, 42, a church maintenance supervisor whose father’s home flooded.
More than 70,000 people have registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and thousands of flood victims remained at about three dozen shelters across the region on Friday. Thirteen people died in the disaster.
During Trump’s stop at the large, modern Greenwell Springs Baptist Church on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, he and running mate Mike Pence spoke with a small group of flood victims and volunteers, asking a few questions, Phinney said.
Phinney’s 2-year-old son, Cooper, ran up to the candidates, and Pence rubbed his head. Afterward, Trump shook both Phinney’s and his son’s hands.
“I just appreciate his passion,” Phinney said. “When he looked me in the eye and shook my hand, it felt real. The guy is down here for more than just a vote. I feel like this is legit. So he’s got my vote.”
The Rev. Tony Perkins, whose home flooded, invited Trump to draw attention to the disaster by visiting the area. In June, Perkins helped coordinate a meeting with the candidate and evangelical leaders.
Perkins, president of the conservative Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, took Trump to see flooded homes and introduced him to victims who shared their stories, including an elderly man rescued from the roof of the home where he was born.
As he met with victims, Perkins said Trump asked about recovery efforts. “He thinks in terms of not just what the government can do, but what people can do,” Perkins said, including churches.
Pam West, 63, came to see Trump at the church after her nearby home flooded. Her Grand Marquis is packed with salvaged clothes and jewelry while she and her husband stay with a cousin. The couple had to be rescued by boat. They never had been impacted by flooding before and have no flood insurance.
She called Trump’s visit “awesome. … Our own dear president is too busy at Martha’s Vineyard to visit us,” West said as she picked up a box of donated toiletries from a Samaritan’s Purse truck parked outside. “I’m hoping a lot of people who were going to vote for Hillary will see he came and vote for him. He’s our only hope.”
The Rev. Bill Engelhart had been helping friends in Baton Rouge gut their flooded homes Friday, but paused to see Trump. “He really cares, and this is his way of showing it,” Engelhart said. “It’s something a president should do.”