Sep 7, 2021

Joe Biden New Jersey Hurricane Ida Press Conference Transcript

Joe Biden New Jersey Hurricane Ida Press Conference Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsJoe Biden TranscriptsJoe Biden New Jersey Hurricane Ida Press Conference Transcript

President Joe Biden met with New Jersey officials on September 7 to discuss Hurricane Ida damage. Read the transcript of the press conference briefing here.

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Governor Murphy: (02:15)
… of communities impacted, and all of this at the end of 18 months of a pandemic that has taken a toll of over 27,000 lives. We are deeply appreciative of the major disaster declaration that you and the FEMA administrator declared for six of our counties, including this one. I know FEMA is on the ground today, and we’re desperately hoping that some more counties get added to that list, Essex, Union, Hudson, Mercer at a minimum. This impacted, as you know, Mr. President, residences, small businesses infrastructure, and we know this will be a long road to recovery. We also know that you and your administration and our administration here in New Jersey will stand shoulder to shoulder with these individuals on that long road until they’re back, standing tall again. The New Jersey spirit, which you know well, has never been more obvious and prevalent than over the past week as everybody has come together for neighbors, for communities, for main streets, and we will stay that way. I know you will, Mr. President, as well.

Governor Murphy: (03:20)
My last observation is one that we’ve made, but needs to be made, I think, again. These storms are coming, it’s undeniable, with more frequency, with more intensity, with more rain. You and I were just discussing privately any amount of climate resiliency infrastructure that Congress can send to your desk for signature, which I know you will support instantly, is a game-changer for our state. We’re the most densely populated state in the nation. We’ve got a location second to none, but we are exposed, both on the shore, which was spared in this storm, but inland, on rivers and streams. So for all the above, on behalf of all of us, we’re incredibly honored to have you and your team here today. It’s my great honor to introduce the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden.

President Biden: (04:05)
Thanks, [inaudible 00:04:06]. I wish I were here under different circumstances, but you really took a hit. New Jersey took a hit. Parts of my state as well, but New Jersey and New York in particular. I want to begin by thanking Senator Booker for all the work he’s doing in the Senate trying to get this infrastructure and the things we have to do to not just build back, but build back better than it was before. I want to thank Representative Watson. Now, am I in your district, or am I in … I’m in Tommy’s district.

Speaker 3: (04:51)
You would be in my district in the moment.

President Biden: (04:52)
In the moment. Okay. We’re right on the line.

Speaker 4: (04:55)
[inaudible 00:04:55].

President Biden: (04:55)
Yeah, I think that’s true. You also have one of the best state police forces in the nation. I’m a big [inaudible 00:05:03] guy, and so is Delaware. But thank you very much for all you do. Look. To the local officials, the mayors and the county commissioner, you really get hit first. They come to you first. They want to know what’s going on, what you can do to help them. In some cases, even with search and rescue, you have some of the least reach in terms of the availability of resources.

President Biden: (05:37)
The one thing I will say, and I really want to thank my FEMA director. She’s done one thing that … and we had a great FEMA director in the past as well. That makes it work. When you get local, state, and federal working together, it is more than three times. It’s like ten times what it would be just having one moving, and the losses that we witnessed today are profound, dozens of lost lives, homes destroyed in Manville, including by gas leaks triggered by the flooding, damaged infrastructure, including the rail system. My thoughts are with all those families affected by the storms and all those families that have lost someone they love, and understand there’s still two … Is it two people missing or …

Governor Murphy: (06:29)

President Biden: (06:30)
Four people still missing, and I especially want to thank … It’s an overused phrase, but the brave first responders who have exemplified the courage, both in New Jersey and next door in New York. They’ve done an incredible job, and working closely with Governor Murphy, we’re going to continue to do so. I’m here to see firsthand what the damage is and find out directly from you all what is most needed. Look, FEMA has been, I hope, as responsive as we’ve intended them to be. I’m sure they have. 132 personnel from FEMA so far, including federal search and rescue teams, including 60 individuals, incident management assistant teams of 20 people to support these response operations, and mobile emergency response support teams, six of them, to provide communication and logistics support.

President Biden: (07:33)
On Sunday, when we spoke to the governor and he asked for the major disaster declaration, we made it available immediately so that we could speed federal assistance as quickly as we could to hard-hit communities. FEMA administrators were on the ground here in New Jersey yesterday, I believe, to assess the damage. He’s visited two communities, Mullica Hills and Winona, hit by the tornado that was on the ground. For over 13 miles, that was on the ground, that tornado, those tornadoes. HHS secretaries work with the state to make sure folks on Medicare and Medicaid get the emergency care they need now, and we’re going to make sure the relief is equitable so that those hardest hit get what they need. We know there’s a lot more to do, and that’s why we’re here.

President Biden: (08:34)
For decades, scientists have warned of extreme weather, it would be more extreme, and climate change was here. We’re living through it. Now we don’t have any more time. I’ve been on the telephone or on the road an awful lot between California, Idaho, New Orleans … Excuse me, not New Orleans, Louisiana, but New Orleans, Mississippi, and here. I mean, every part of the country, every part of the country is getting hit by extreme weather. We’re now living in real time what the country is going to look like and if we don’t do something. We can’t turn it back very much, but we can prevent it from getting worse.

President Biden: (09:25)
So we’re all in this together, and we’ve got to make sure that we don’t leave any community behind. It’s all across the country. The members of Congress know from their colleagues in Congress that looks like a tornado, they don’t call them that anymore, that hit the crops and wetlands in the middle of the country in Iowa and Nevada. I mean, it’s just across the board. As I said, we’re in this together.

President Biden: (09:59)
So one of the things that today I’m going to ask you about when we get into some question and answers here is about how we’re going to build back. We’re going to build back realizing what the status of the climate is now, what the trajectory of it is going to be, and we all know you can’t just build back to what it was before. Whatever damage done in New Jersey, you can’t build back and restore what it was before, because another tornado, another 10 inches of rain’s going to produce the same kind of results. So I want to talk a little bit about the specifics about the things you think you would need not just to get back to normal, but to get back to a place where if it happened again, the damage would be considerably less.

President Biden: (10:53)
That’s what this is all about in my view. This is an opportunity. I think the country’s finally acknowledged the fact that global warming is real and it’s moving at an incredible pace. We’ve got to do something about it. I’m going to be going from here to the COP 29 in Glasgow for the world meeting together and how we’re going to deal with climate change. I think we’re at one of those inflection points where we either act or we’re going to be in real, real trouble. Our kids are going to be in real trouble. So I want to thank you, and I yield back to you, Governor.

Governor Murphy: (11:30)
Thank you, Mr. President. Amen to all, and, again, we can’t thank you enough for being here, for all your support. Another person who we’re going to hear from next has been there for us. Deanne Criswell is the administrator for FEMA. We’ve had a lot of conversations over the past several weeks harking back to Henri, which also wreaked some havoc in New Jersey, but nothing like Ida. Madam Administrator, it’s honor to have you here.

Deanne Criswell: (11:55)
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Governor. Thank you to all the elected officials, commissioners, and mayors that are here today. I’d actually like to start by giving a big shout-out to all of the first responders that have been supporting the lifesaving efforts over the last few days, many of them in your own communities, many of them who have had damages to their own homes. I just want everybody to know the hard work that you do is really appreciated in your communities, but also at the federal level as well. We couldn’t do it without you. You are the ones on the ground. I always say it, and you’ve heard from others as well. Disasters always start and end local, and so we want to make sure that we’re here to support the first responders.

Deanne Criswell: (12:37)
I did spend yesterday visiting some of the damaged areas and meeting with local officials. I toured Mullica Hill and Winona and witnessed firsthand the destruction that these tornadoes did bring. But because of the president’s swift action in declaring a major disaster declaration, we’ve been able to now provide aid to some of the families who have been impacted, specifically those individuals that live in Bergen, Gloucester. Excuse me, if I get these wrong, pronounce them wrong, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset.

President Biden: (13:09)
It’s okay as long as you send the money.

Deanne Criswell: (13:11)
I’m sending money. I bring a checkbook, Mr. President, that you gave me. We’re continuing to do damage assessments today. So I have staff on the ground today that are doing assessments in Essex, Hudson, Union, and Mercer. We wanted to be able to get this disaster declaration in place quickly, knowing that we still needed to do additional damage assessments to really get a better understanding of the scope of the impact that the communities are experiencing across New Jersey.

Deanne Criswell: (13:40)
So far, we actually already have over 7,000 families that have registered for assistance, and that number will continue to grow. But if they haven’t registered yet, individuals can go to They can go to our FEMA app or they can call 1-800-621-FEMA. That’s 1-800-621-3362. Additionally, we’re going to have teams that are going in the neighborhoods. They will also be in the recovery centers when they’re established. If you haven’t registered, they can assist you with registering. If you have and you have questions about your case, just find somebody with a FEMA shirt, and they’ll help you understand where it’s at and if you need to provide any more information.

Deanne Criswell: (14:23)
I think the thing that’s been remarkable over the last few weeks in watching the track of Hurricane Ida that really caused damage across nine states is that the weather events such as these are just becoming more normal. They’re becoming more common, but they’re more severe, and they’re more intense. The effects of climate change that are causing these storms is here, and it’s our job to make sure that we are all ready to respond, as well as prepared. FEMA is really committed to helping with making communities more resilient. We recently authorized on behalf of the president close to $5 billion in hazard mitigation funding to help give communities that extra resource to build that resiliency. It’s just the first step, but FEMA wants to be an active participant in this role of making sure that we’re preparing to reduce the impacts from the future risks that we’re going to continue to see as a result of climate change.

Deanne Criswell: (15:22)
Then lastly, I’d just like to say this is September, and it is National Preparedness Month. Our theme this year is prepare to protect, and I think what we saw over the last week is that nobody is immune from the threats that we’re facing from these disasters. I read recently that it said one in three Americans have already experienced a major disaster this year. I can’t verify that number, but it’s there. People are experiencing these events. We need to invest in reducing the risk that these communities are facing, but we also need to make sure that we’re helping individuals be prepared. So if you don’t have an emergency plan, please go to, and there’s some great information there to help you prepare for what you may be experiencing in the future. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Murphy: (16:06)
Thank you, Deanne. Thank you for the major disaster declaration for those six counties, including this one, and for your work to hopefully add to that list. I know your team is on that. Again, it’s if you’re in those six counties. If you’re not in the six counties, we have a website set up,, and hopefully that’s a landing place for now for folks to go until please, God, they get designated as a disaster county. So thank you for everything. You all have been extraordinary. We’re in Somerset County, and we’re honored to have the commissioner director with us, an outstanding leader. Here are a few words from Shanel Robinson. Shanel?

Shanel Robinson: (16:50)
Thank you. Thank you Mr. President, and thank you, Governor. Welcome to all of you to Somerset County’s Emergency Operations Center. Thank you for visiting to see the catastrophic damage that Ida brought firsthand. We all greatly appreciate your commitment to our recovery and especially for our inclusion in FEMA’s major disaster declaration. So again, thank you for that. Now, as you tour Manville today, you will see the heart and spirit and the resilience of the people of Somerset County. You will see the devastation that Ida brought, but nevertheless, we will continue to do and build a better and stronger community.

Shanel Robinson: (17:34)
Hurricane Ida is our fourth, understand, our fourth storm of the 100-year storm in just over two decades. As you mentioned, Mr. President, it’s only going to get worse. But this historic storm has hit us particularly hard. In Somerset County, the result was not just a deluge of waters, but a deluge of emergencies. Our own Somerset County 911 communications center filled with over 13,000 calls that night, 5,000 of them being 911, 520 air and water rescues where people were rescued from their vehicles or from their homes, 170 fire alarms, eight explosions, and there are countless of automobile accidents and injuries.

Shanel Robinson: (18:30)
But as we all can attest to and can agree to is that our first responders, state, local rescue teams risked their own safety to save the lives of other residents of not only Somerset County, but the state of New Jersey. I would be remiss if I did not thank our Somerset County Department of Public Works, who were with their front loaders, rescuing people, who were out there, cleaning the debris, making sure the roadways were safe and blocked from those that entered into dangerous paths. But also during the worst of the raging waters in our Millstone and Raritan Rivers, they raged over our 750 bridges here in Somerset County alone. But yet, our workers were there to make sure that they were doing all that they could to make sure that our residents were safe.

Shanel Robinson: (19:24)
Sadly, six Somerset County residents lost their lives to the floodwaters. We must continue to hold their families and loved ones in our prayers and in our hearts. But, again, because of Ida’s devastation, we know that we cannot forget that we must endure, as we have thousands of people that are continuing to seek shelter. Our collective mission now, as you see around the room, you have local, county, state, and federal officials coming together to making sure that we get our families back into our homes, make sure that our businesses are operating again, and to repair and restore our public infrastructure. Here in New Jersey, there is a strong connection. Again, the leadership are in the room. There’s a strong connection to make sure that we’re doing all that we can for the residents of New Jersey, not just Somerset County, and we must do all that we can to make sure that the residents know that we have their back. As you said, Administrator, we’re here to prepare to protect. If the residents do not feel that we have their backs, then we failed them.

Shanel Robinson: (20:46)
So over the weekend, we’ve transitioned from emergency response to disaster recovery. This will not only take weeks, but months or even longer. We will never be back to close to normal, but all we can do is do better. We will need FEMA, Red Cross, state and local OEM, and nonprofits to come together to ensure that the recovery is not just for some, but for all. So, again, thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Governor. Thank you to all of you for your resiliency and for your deep concern for not only Somerset County, but the state of New Jersey and your commitment to our recovery.

President Biden: (21:34)
Thank you, Shanel.

Governor Murphy: (21:36)
Thank you, Shanel. Great leadership by you and your team, as you said, at the county and local level and heroism all over the state by first responders. With your blessing, Mr. President, I think we have one more speaker before our friends and the press leave, and that is the superintendent of our state police, Colonel Pat Callaghan, who has been there every single day during this pandemic and certainly through Ida and all the other weather challenges we’ve had. Pat, over to you.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (21:59)
Thank you, Governor, for that introduction and certainly for your continued leadership through probably some of the most challenging times in New Jersey’s history. Thank you, Mr. President, especially for your kind words about the state police. Delaware State Police is pretty good too, Mr. President.

President Biden: (22:17)
The best.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (22:19)
But your presence here sends a strong message to all of us and to our residents that that support from not only the response, recovery, mitigation that the federal government’s here, and we saw that yesterday when the administrator and I walked around and spoke to those homeowners. So thank you. I also want to take this opportunity to thank and offer my gratitude for the swift offers of assistance that we got from the White House, from FEMA, Department of Defense, HHS. It’s an honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with all of you and show the rest of the country what it means to be a true collaborative effort here. So thank you.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (22:59)
Just a little bit about the day of the storm, Mr. President, that morning of, at 10:00 AM, we hosted a call with the National Weather Service, all of our county OEM coordinators, our state emergency management partners. We activated our SEOC two hours later. Then in short order, that unprecedented amount of rainfall, just a staggering rate fell and ravaged our state, upending families and causing a horrible loss of life, as you’ve heard.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (23:28)
To give a broad picture, very few areas were unscaved. Flooding occurred in 10 of our 21 counties that were normally not flood-prone. As we witnessed yesterday, that EF3 that hit down on that 13-mile path starting with over in Harrison Township all the way up through Winona and now .. So that all happened in a period of about nine or ten hours, almost three months of rain in about five hours, just unprecedented. The rivers exceeded their levels. Even today, the Passaic River is not expected to fall below flood stage until tomorrow. We might even be expecting some rain tomorrow, which we’re keeping an eye, on as you well know.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (24:16)
Mr. President, while we prepared our roadways, we cleared storm drains and debris. The amount of rainfall was overwhelming. Whole roadways were actually swept completely away. Motorists were stranded for hours. As you know, sadly, some of them never made it home. Our search and rescue personnel just at the state level alone had 543 rescues, and collectively, our local first responders, to your point, more than 3,500 rescues in that time, leaving their own families, leaving their own homes. Our missing persons operations are still ongoing for those four.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (24:54)
The preliminary damage assessments have been happening at a rapid rate, and as we know that those four additional counties that we’re hopefully going to get there, so thank you for that. The debris removal costs alone for this one are going to be staggering, as everybody in the room knows. Some of our most economically vulnerable populations have been hit the hardest, with many individuals who lost their homes, they lost the vehicles, and they lost their jobs all in that 10-hour period. Shelter is going to be a need, temporary housing, the debris removal, and, sadly, unemployment and funeral assistance for several of those families.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (25:34)
But I would like to point out that the damage that we witnessed probably would have been significantly worse if it wasn’t for the mitigation efforts that New Jersey had in place for the past several years thanks to our partnership with FEMA. In New Jersey, we have a return of $6 in savings for every dollar spent from our mitigation. I think that puts us in the top five of the 50 states, which is pretty phenomenal. So that’s under Governor Murphy’s leadership. Our climate and flood resilience program and interagency council on climate resilience is undertaking bold and comprehensive actions to ensure that our communities and infrastructure are more resilient for future storms.

Colonel Pat Callaghan: (26:15)
I know that’s what you spoke of in your remarks that resiliency can’t mean bouncing back. Resiliency has to be bouncing forward, because these storms are going to keep coming. So investing that federal funding in our state will certainly ensure that we’re building a better nation together, and I know that that’s a priority for you and your administration. So in closing, I echo the governor’s remarks and welcome you here to New Jersey, while I certainly wish it were under different circumstances, but having lived your life in our neighborhood, you know that we’re a strong, resilient people in a tough state. Together, I know that we’re going to get our families and our citizens back and forward from where we need to be. So thank you, sir. It was an honor.

President Biden: (27:01)
Thank all your troopers for us, too, for real.

Governor Murphy: (27:05)
Thank you, and it has to be said, Mr. President. I think the mayors, who we’ll hear from in a minute, the press, I think, with your blessing are going to depart if I’ve got that right.

President Biden: (27:15)

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