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Homeland Security Chief Visits Flood-Ravaged Louisiana as 86,000 Register for Assistance

President Obama Faces Vacation Criticism as Louisiana Flood Develops 0:58

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited a devastated Louisiana on Thursday as the state's governor said that at least 13 people had died and that more than 86,000 people have registered for federal disaster assistance in flooding that has ravaged the state for days.

"The federal government is here. We will be here as long as it takes to let this community recover," Johnson said at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Baton Rouge, the state capital. Johnson, who arrived Thursday in Louisiana, said he met with state and local officials to discuss the extent of the flooding.

Image: Flood in Sorrento, La.
Floodwaters stand stagnant Wednesday in Sorrento, La. Reuters

Gov. John Bel Edwards said that 86,500 people had registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Disaster Agency and that more than 30,000 people, along with 1,400 pets, had been rescued.

Johnson and Edwards both defended President Barack Obama against criticism for continuing vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., instead of visiting Louisiana.

"When you're the chief executive of the entire U.S. government, you can't be everywhere, including places you would like to be," Johnson said.

"He is very much on top of the situation," Johnson said. "I know that he is aware of the level of federal assistance that can be provided and is being provided, and I'll be briefing him myself right after this visit."

Edwards said he had been in close contact with the administration since the disaster.

Image: Torrential Rains Bring Historic Floods To Southern Louisiana
Elsie Lazarus is overcome with emotion as she sits in her flooded living room Thursday while retrieving what she can from her home in St. Amant, La. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

"Within hours of me requesting a federal declaration, the president granted the declaration and called me to discuss it. I've been in contact with the White House just about every day," Edwards said. "So I am not complaining in any way about our federal partnership. The president is welcome to visit whenever he wants to visit."

Twenty of the state's 64 parishes are covered under the major disaster zone declaration, which Obama signed Sunday.

Edwards added that the extra security and police presence needed during such high-profile visits could take away from recovery efforts.

"That is not something that I want to go through right now," he said.