Aug 30, 2021
Joe Biden FEMA Hurricane Ida Briefing Transcript August 30
President Joe Biden participated in a briefing on Hurricane Ida with FEMA officials and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Read the transcript of the press conference here.
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Joe Biden: (00:00)
[inaudible 00:00:00] And thanks for joining me. I’m here, the FEMA Director is on, FEMA Director Chris Welsh. She’s on. And I’m here with my Senior Advisor and a boy who knows Louisiana, very, very well, man, and New Orleans and [inaudible 00:00:25]. And what I’m going to do is make a brief statement here and then go through and tell you what we’re doing, but then hear from all of you, if that’s okay. I know you’re busy as the devil. I know you’ve got a lot to manage in your states, but the fact is that I want to hear from you. We both want to hear from you. And we know Hurricane Ida had a potential to cause massive, massive damage, and that’s exactly what we saw. We already know there’s been at least one confirmed death and that number is likely to grow.
Joe Biden: (01:03)
We’ve got a million people in Louisiana without power and for a time Ida caused the Mississippi River to literally change its direction. And some folks are still dealing with the storm surge and flash flooding. And there are roads that are impassable due to debris and down power lines. And we need people to continue to shelter in place if it’s safe for them to do so. And for those who have lost their homes, states working with the American Red Cross have already opened 50 shelters in the effected areas across the Gulf Coast. We’ve already begun search and rescue efforts and get folks out there who need assistance, and we’re doing the best we can. More than 5,000 members of your National Guard have been activated from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas to support search and rescue and recovery efforts.
Joe Biden: (02:02)
And FEMA has pre-positioned literally millions of meals and liters of water. They are already pre-positioned as well as other resources in the immediate area. And we’ve deployed more than 200 generators we already moved into the region. They’ve been moved in ahead of time and Administrator Criswell and her team at FEMA is working getting more of those into the area. We’re in closer contact with local electric providers to see what they need. They’re all private providers. We don’t control that, but we’re doing all we can to minimize the amount of time it’s going to take to get power back up for everyone in the region. And we’ve been working with the electric sector throughout the night and all day today to assess and understand the full extent of the damage. To accelerate the process, I’ve asked the Federal Aviation Administration to work today with Louisiana and Mississippi electric companies to authorize use of surveillance drones to assess Ida’s damage to energy infrastructure while ensuring those flights do not disrupt aerial search and rescue operations.
Joe Biden: (03:16)
And I’ve also asked the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately make available any satellite imagery that can assist in assessing the damage in your states and cities and parishes. Local utilities are going to soon began restoration work, including prioritizing getting transmission lines into New Orleans and get them back up and running. A lot of them have been taken down. More than 25,000 debris crews and linemen from at least 30 states are rolling in to support you. Some are already pre-positioned and close and hopefully are already underway. But we need to be prepared, and that we’re about as prepared as we could be for the early stage of this. And there’s a lot more to do. We also know a lot of people lost their cell phone service if their particular carrier tower is down or damaged.
Joe Biden: (04:16)
So this morning, the Federal Communications Commission has worked with the cellular providers to initiate their cooperative framework agreement. That agreement allows customers on with one provider to go to another provider if that provider is down. So it allows customers to use roaming access carriers to any of the carriers that are up and running. And that means you should be able to get a signal no matter who your carrier was or is. The main thing I want to make clear to all of you is we’re providing any help that you’re going to need. And so, as I said, I’ve got my Senior Adviser Cedric Richmond here with me. You all know him. He’s a New Orleans native. He was a Congressman in Louisiana’s Second District for 10 years. He knows the area, he knows the people who have been affected by Ida, and he knows how to get things done in government.
Joe Biden: (05:12)
While FEMA is our lead for on the ground response, if there’s something that needs my attention, Cedric’s your direct line in to the White House throughout this recovery. And I mean that, whatever you need go to Cedric. He’ll get to me. We’ll get you what you need if we can. The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are resilient, but in moments like these, we can certainly see the power of government to respond to the needs of the people if government’s prepared and if they respond. That’s our job if we work together. Folks get knocked down, we’re there to help you get back on your feet. The most important element though is coordinating all the branches of government, state, local, and federal. And that’s what we’re trying to make sure that we try to do even before this hurricane hit.
Joe Biden: (06:03)
That’s why we begun working together. We’re going to stand with you and the people of the Gulf as long as it takes for you to recover. And so I’m now going to turn this over to Governor Edwards of Louisiana. Governor, give us your assessment of what you have, what you’re seeing out there. Tell me what you’re hearing and what your team on the ground and anything you need that we haven’t gotten to you.
Governor Edwards: (06:30)
Thank you very much, Mr. President, and you couldn’t pick the better person than Cedric Richmond and we look forward to working with him as well. First of all, let me thank you for signing my request for a pre-landfall declaration and then last night signing the major disaster declaration. That’s going to be very helpful. Hurricane Ida came on shore with everything that was advertised, the surge, the rain, the wind. The good news first is all of our levee systems, particularly our federal levy systems and the hurricane risk reduction systems, performed magnificently. They were not overtopped. None of them were breached. Even our levee systems that were paid for with state and local funding in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish performed extremely well. It would be a different story altogether had any of those levy systems failed.
Governor Edwards: (07:28)
Having said that, the damage is still catastrophic, but it was primarily wind driven. We know that there were some areas that received a tremendous rainfall as well, but we’re going to be dealing with this damage for quite a while. And you mentioned the power outage, that is critical for us, and it’s really a million homes and businesses that are out. My best guess is you’re getting closer to two million people without electricity right now. And, of course, we’re trying to prioritize the restoration so that our hospitals come back up first, because while they’re all on generator power, generators typically fail after some period of time. So we want to get them back up first, and in the meantime, we already have the Corps of Engineers on the ground identifying additional generators that we can bring to these hospital locations so that should we have a failure before power’s restored we’re going to be able to switch them over, and they’re working extremely hard on that.
Governor Edwards: (08:30)
And we have FEMA embedded with us year since before the storm. The truth of the matter is [inaudible 00:08:35] since the day I became governor. They haven’t left because of one disaster emergency after another. But they’re doing really well. We look forward to visiting with Administrator Criswell, who I think is going to be able to come down tomorrow, Mr. President. But this is going to be a long haul and we know that we’re going to need assistance with a housing program. We’re putting together preliminary information this week that can potentially drive an appropriation for a CDBG. We’ll be getting with you all, and I’ll work through Cedric Richmond on that, Mr. President, to make sure that we can get a program up and running just as soon as possible. But I want to finish with really the most important thing, we are still in a life-saving mode here doing search and rescue. The roads, the highways into the most effected area were completely clogged with debris, down power lines, trees.
Governor Edwards: (09:41)
We’re making really good progress. We actually started our ground search and rescue this morning at daylight. We dispatched those horses and, by the way, we already had search and rescue teams from 16 states in Louisiana as of yesterday. They started moving to the affected areas at three o’clock this morning. At six o’clock, they were actually doing search and rescues from 911 calls that came in over the night that couldn’t be responded to. And then by six o’clock this morning, we actually were affecting rescues out of the air as well. And the last thing I want to say is that the very first rescues occurred at a hospital in Galliano down in Lafourche Parish by the U.S. Coast Guard, because they’re able to fly before any other assets could and they were able to move about seven patients from a hospital down there. You probably saw the hospital that had the roof just completely taken off yesterday.
Joe Biden: (10:46)
Governor Edwards: (10:46)
Your Coast Guard rescued and relocated those patients first thing this morning. And we are very appreciative of that.
Joe Biden: (10:56)
Thank you. Well, look, we worked real hard with you to get the search and rescue teams in place, but you say they have been able to respond in a timely way.
Governor Edwards: (11:09)
Yes, sir. And I can’t tell you they’re everywhere we want them, but they started responding first thing this morning. And those 16 teams, that doesn’t include the National Guard or the Wildlife and Fisheries Officers here. I’ve got all 5,000 of my National Guardsmen activated. We’re going to end up with about 5,000 more coming in from out of state through an EMAC request. And one of the reasons this is important, Mr. President, is we’ve got 2,400 of our soldiers in our 256 Brigade Infantry Combat Team, they’re deployed to the Middle East. And so we’re going to have EMAC requests where I think as early as tomorrow we’re going to have additional soldiers coming from National Guards from sister states. And that’s going to be very helpful as well.
Joe Biden: (11:56)
Well, good. Well look, if there’s anything else you need, you know just call. I mean, you’ve got the team at the table there, a lot of them. And so, just holler. All right. Now, Cedric, who are we going to next.
Cedric Richmond: (12:16)
Joe Biden: (12:17)
Oh, you are. I understand, Gov, you’re not on video, but you are on the telephone. So, Gov, fire away.
Governor Reeves: (12:27)
Well, thank you, Mr. President. When we spoke on Friday, you assured me that when we asked for the pre-landfall declaration that you would immediately sign it, and you did exactly that. And I want to thank you for doing so. We’re in a little bit of a different position right now, obviously, than our friends in Louisiana. The eye of the storm is currently west of Jackson and so we probably have between 18 and 22 more hours of the eye of the storm being in the state of Mississippi. We also have, because it’s such a large storm, our largest threat in terms of tornadic activity still remains along our coastline and in the counties just north of there. The storm, which really is challenging, has slowed down to about eight miles an hour. And so that’s the reason it’s going to stay in the state for so long, which leads to more and more rainfall.
Governor Reeves: (13:26)
So the bad news for us is that we’re going to get even more rainfall than maybe we originally anticipated. The good news is because it’s moving so slow the wind speeds have not reached where we thought they would be in the 65, 75 mile an hour range here in central Mississippi. They’re really closer to 30 to 40 miles an hour. Certainly, still providing some significant challenges, but not to the extent that it otherwise could have been. Because of that, we know that our greatest threats here in Mississippi are with respect to rising water and power outages. The storm has been in the state for about eight to 10 hours now. We’ve got 135,000 plus Mississippi dwellings that have not and cannot receive power right now. We’re working working on that, but we anticipate that number to significantly increase over the next 20 hours as the storm continued to move north.
Governor Reeves: (14:28)
We have determined in meeting with our team, Mr. President, as well as your team at FEMA earlier today that the SARs assets, the search and rescue teams, from FEMA in our state are not currently needed in our state. We believe our state and local assets can meet the needs. And so we have encouraged our FEMA counterparts to release those individuals over to Louisiana to help with those search and rescue.
Joe Biden: (14:58)
Governor Reeves: (14:58)
As well as I have directed General Boyles, my Adjutant General, as we progress over the next eight to 10 hours, he has already reached out to his counterpart in Louisiana and we’re going to be sending men and women in uniform from Mississippi to help in Louisiana. Because that’s who we are. And so we’ve got, again, about 20 hours ahead of us of winds and lots and lots of rain, but all things considered, because the storm slowed up so considerably we’re seeing more rain, more water, but a lot less wind, which is certainly helpful.
Joe Biden: (15:38)
Well, thanks an awful lot, Gov. And, again, thanks for your generosity in sending us some of those search and rescue teams to Louisiana. Is Mayor Cantrell? Mayor Cantrell, are you on? I don’t think she was able to get connected.
Cedric Richmond: (16:01)
I don’t think so, Mr. President, but we have Cynthia Lee Sheng.
Joe Biden: (16:05)
Cedric Richmond: (16:06)
The Parish President from Jefferson Parish, which includes Grand Isle and other places hard hit.
Joe Biden: (16:11)
You were hard hit, weren’t you, Madam President, especially down in Grand Isle?
Cynthia Lee Sheng: (16:15)
Yes, we were. Thank you, Mr. President. Congressmen, Governor, thank you. We have not had contact with Grand Isle. Congressman, you know Mayor Camardelle. I talked to him yesterday evening. He thought 40 people were on the island, couldn’t get them off, including some firefighters. We have not had contact with them since yesterday. I’m told that Mayor Camardelle is in Galliano and, Governor, I think he’s on a helicopter by the state police is what I heard to get him to the island. And as long as there’s communication, we’ll be able to communicate with him and see what’s going on there. But it’s very hard to not have any word from that island and the people on it since that time. In Laffite, the water was very high, to the roofs of houses. Our first responder Sheriff Joseph Lopinto, our firefighters, Louisiana National Guard, some Coast Guard are there doing search and rescue.
Cynthia Lee Sheng: (17:08)
They’re having to get boats in and out. We are sheltering those people at [inaudible 00:17:13] Playground. And then I believe the state is going to coordinate, Governor, for a pickup and move them out to Alexandria, is my understanding. And then, of course, our systems are down. We have no electricity, no communication. Our water systems are down. We’re losing pressure. We had to do a boil water advisory. Our sewer system, as you know, is based on electricity so we’re going to start having backups there, so that’s going to be a hygiene problem. And we’re encouraging residents who are out of the area to stay out because we do not have the modern amenities to bring them back home. And the people inside, we’re going to have to take care of them. But some of the in here who stay during the storm are okay. In the next couple of days, they may want to get out. And it might be a best idea for them to get out because it’s going to be a difficult life for quite some time.
Joe Biden: (18:01)
Thank you, Madam President.
Cynthia Lee Sheng: (18:03)