Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has made an unscheduled visit to Louisiana to view damage from Hurricane Isaac, the day after accepting his party's nomination to take on President Barack Obama in November.
Romney thanked first responders on Friday and inspected the fallout from the storm that had originally stoked fears of a repeat of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans seven years ago.
His appearance preceded Obama's own stop in the region, which is scheduled for Monday.
Romney joined Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in Jefferson Parish near New Orleans as they surveyed
half-submerged cars, debris and high water left from Isaac, now a tropical depression further north.
The Republican candidate told Jindal he was "here to learn" about the situation, and spoke with a handful of victims before meeting with local officials, including the mayor of Lafitte.
Romney was fresh from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, which sought to present a more informal side of the candidate. The former businessman has struggled to shake off perceptions of being stiff and aloof.
"It was the assessment of the president's team working with all the people involved in operations, as well as people on the ground, that Monday was a good day for the president to visit"
- Jay Carney,
White House spokesperson
Jodie Chiarello, 42, a resident of Lafitte who was one of those affected by the storm, said that "it was nice" meeting with Romney. "He was caring," said Chiarello, a Republican.
Romney emerged from the convention with an overall improvement in his image among voters but no significant change in the number who say they will vote for him, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday.
Thirty-one per cent of the registered voters responding to the survey found Romney "likeable" in Friday's poll, up from Monday's 26 per cent. Obama enjoys a 48 per cent likeability rating.
Although lagging behind Obama in most other favourable metrics, Romney continued to make headway in categories such as "represents America," "understands people like me" and "is a good person".
Romney and Obama remain in a dead heat in most national polls of voting intentions. Friday's Reuters/Ipsos poll had
Romney with a slim one-point lead among likely voters, effectively unchanged from the day before.
'Height of hypocrisy'
Some Democrats seized on Romney's visit to criticise the policies of his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, who has proposed substantial curbs in disaster relief spending.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the visit "the height of hypocrisy".
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Romney detoured to Louisiana just after appearing in Florida at a send-off rally with his family and Ryan.
Isaac delayed the Republican convention by a day, as Republicans feared kicking off the festivities while the storm
bore down on the Gulf Coast region still nervous after Katrina.
The storm was the first major hurricane to hit the US this year and provided a successful test of New Orleans' new
$14.5bn flood defences.
Obama's Republican predecessor in the White House, George W Bush, received heavy criticism for his administration's sluggish initial response to the devastation unleashed by Katrina.
Obama has gone to great lengths to show that he is on top of the response to Isaac. He made several references to the storm in his campaign remarks this week and said he had been in contact with various federal agencies.
Recovering from Isaac
Hurricane Isaac's drenching rains and cooling winds have drifted north of the Gulf Coast.
The remainder of the storm was still a powerful system packing rain and the threat of flash flooding as it headed across Arkansas into Missouri and then up the Ohio River valley over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.
Heat and humidity moved back to Louisiana - along with frustration, exhaustion and uncertainty - as thousands of people displaced by floodwaters had no idea where they would end up next.
|Isaac dumped as much as 41cm of rain in some areas, and about 500 people had to be rescued [Reuters]
The beginning of the US Labour Day holiday weekend began what was certain to be a slow recovery for Louisiana, though there were signs of life getting back to some sense of normalcy on Friday.
The Mississippi River opened to limited traffic, the French Quarter rekindled its lively spirit and restaurants reopened.
Isaac dumped as much as 41cm of rain in some areas, and about 500 people had to be rescued by boat or high-water vehicles. More than 5,000 people are still staying in shelters.
The storm's victims include a man and a woman discovered on Thursday in a home in the hard-hit town of Braithwaite, south of New Orleans. Isaac's death toll is now at least seven - five in Louisiana and two in Mississippi.
In Louisiana alone, the storm cut power to 901,000 homes and businesses, or about 47 per cent of the state, but that was down to 617,000 by Friday.
More than 15,000 utility workers began restoring power to customers along the Gulf Coast, but officials said it would be a couple of days before power was fully restored.