Aug 26, 2020
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Briefing Transcript August 26: Hurricane Laura Update
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a press conference on August 26 to provide updates on the state’s response for Hurricane Laura. Read the transcript of the briefing with all of the hurricane updates for Louisiana here.
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John Bel Edwards: (00:23)
Good morning. Thank you for your continued coverage of this quickly developing, strengthening, very serious storm, Hurricane Laura. I have with me today a host of people from our team here at the State of Louisiana. I’m going to yield the floor in just a few minutes to the National Weather Service representative, Ben Schott, who’s with us here as a meteorologist in charge of the New Orleans office. And then you’ll also hear from Dr. Shawn Wilson, the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development. We’re also welcoming today Major General Diana Holland, who commands the Mississippi Valley Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
John Bel Edwards: (01:13)
As you probably are aware now, last night Hurricane Laura began to rapidly intensify. It is now a category three hurricane and anticipated will make landfall very early tomorrow morning in Cameron Parish as a category four.
John Bel Edwards: (01:35)
I’m going to make a couple of points and then yield the floor to Ben. We need everyone in southwest Louisiana paying very, very close attention to this storm and heeding the warnings that have been going out for a number of hours now. You’re going to hear ranges of storm surge that we haven’t heard in Louisiana since Hurricane Audrey in 1957. You’re going to hear the word unsurvivable to describe the storm surge that we are expecting. And what we know is that the weather across southwest Louisiana, and really across all of south Louisiana, will degrade over the next several hours to the point where we’re not going to be able to run our buses, for example, from the Lake Charles area to depopulate individuals, transport them to shelters. And at some point a couple of hours after that, mid-afternoon or so, it won’t be safe for anyone to be on the road down there, so people need to heed the warnings they’ve been given and to evacuate.
John Bel Edwards: (02:49)
And if you think you’re safe because you’ve made it through Rita in southwest Louisiana, understand this storm is going to be more powerful than Rita. It is gaining strength. It is not losing strength as it approaches the southwest coast. We know that the storm surge values are higher. The wind speeds will be higher. And so even if you built back stronger and you’re up at 15-feet elevation, understand the storm surge is going to be expected to be 18 to 20 feet in that immediate area where this storm comes and makes landfall.
John Bel Edwards: (03:29)
We also know that it’s going to hit overnight, and so for people who make the decision to stay, the worst thing you can do is when that storm really starts beating at your door at one or two o’clock in the morning is to decide, “Well, I’m going to leave now,” because that will be the absolute worst decision you can make at that point, because the transportation on ground-level will be ultra-hazardous, more hazardous than you staying in your home, which is why we need people to start evacuating now.
John Bel Edwards: (04:08)
If you’re in those low-lying areas, if your local officials have told you that there’s an evacuation in place, whether it’s mandatory or voluntary, we need you evacuating now. And by the way, the road network is not so congested that you can’t get out. I just looked at I-10, for example, and the traffic is flowing freely on I-10. So understand, we’re talking about unsurvivable storm surge in Cameron Parish, and really, that’s the designation that’s being given from the Texas line over and across the city and Vermilion Parish. For the first time in many years, we have activated the entire National Guard.
John Bel Edwards: (04:57)
And so at this time, I’m going to give the podium to Ben so that he can go through the weather. He’s got some slides for you. I’ll come back on the backside of that and speak for a bit, and then we’ll have Shawn Wilson from DOTD give you an update, as well.
Ben Schott: (05:21)
Thank you, Governor. And with that, I’ll make sure we get started here. Here’s just a quick overview of Hurricane Laura. It is currently a strong category three. At landfall, it will be forecasted to be a category four, as the governor mentioned. I’m going to go through each of the individual threats, talk a little bit about them and some of the local pieces, especially dealing with Cameron and Calcasieu parishes.
Ben Schott: (05:55)
Here’s the current track from the National Hurricane Center. You’ll see right now. The thing that I want to point out is, see the two little circles that are on the map around the X. Those are the current tropical storm and hurricane force windfields. I bring these up because this is a very large storm. A lot of times, people get enamored by what’s in the cone is where it’s most dangerous, and this is a great example of that’s not always the case. With this being a large and deadly storm, you can see the tropical force winds are already almost reaching to the southern Louisiana coast, and the hurricane force winds at landfall will likely extend out more than 60 miles. So you don’t have to be right near the eye. You don’t have to be right near the center line to see significant winds from the storm.
Ben Schott: (06:54)
Again, as mentioned up there, it looks like it’s going to make landfall, with winds of near sustained levels of 145 miles per hour with gusts up to and over 170 miles per hour. I don’t know if anyone has seen that type of damage locally in quite some time. A good example of what the winds can do would be, a recent example of Hurricane Michael, though it was upgraded to a category five, understand that it had amazing damaging winds and almost a 20- or 30-mile wide stretch that reached inland all the way from the Florida coastline into Georgia. So I think folks in southwestern Louisiana and western Louisiana need to understand the wind threat here is serious.
Ben Schott: (07:49)
Speaking of that, again, the tropical force winds will cover a huge portion of the state, could linger from anywhere near the Atchafalaya Basin, Baton Rouge area, and extend well into Texas, well off to our west. Again, this is a very large windfield with this storm, so there will be even impacts further away from the main area that we’ll be talking about here in just a bit when it comes to the unsurvivable storm surge.
Ben Schott: (08:22)
When you look at the hurricane force winds, it’s expected for those to extend maybe as far in as Alexandria, as far to the west as Lufkin, Texas, and make its way right to the doorstep of Shreveport. Again, we’re talking a large area of hurricane force winds possible across southwest Louisiana, and I think the damage from this will be unfortunately devastating at a level that a lot of people will not be able to recognize the areas that they live in if these winds are realized for this forecast.
Ben Schott: (09:03)
Storm surge, as the governor mentioned, these numbers are unimaginable, to think that there would be a wall of water over two stories high coming on shore is very difficult for most to conceive, but that is what is going to happen as we move into the early morning hours tonight into Thursday. There will be a wall up to 18 to 20 feet at the highest point. Most likely, as you can see in this map here, as zoomed in to Cameron and Calcasieu parishes, that the majority of Cameron Parish will be underwater at some point. And that is very troubling, in the least. The red areas are nine feet or greater of inundation. So I want everybody to kind of get a look at that map and understand what I’m saying here. You see almost the entire parish shows possibly nine feet of inundation from Hurricane Laura.
Ben Schott: (10:12)
That works its way well into Calcasieu Parish, and there’ll be places within Lake Charles that will see flooding that has not seen flooding before. Neighborhoods, businesses. The one thing that I want to point out from this is, is again, that is if the track holds exactly as we see it. This strongest surge will be dictated by that track, but as we look at it right now, this is the most dangerous zone to be in when it comes to storm surge. And the word unsurvivable is not one that we like to use, and it’s one that I’ve never used before. So this is what’s most likely the worst case for southwest Louisiana.
Ben Schott: (10:57)
As we branch out, though, I do want to show that, again, this storm has wide-sweeping impacts well outside of the most dangerous zone that we just talked about. There will be life-threatening storm surge as far east as Morgan City, so even interests that far east, people that far east need to be concerned if you have anything to do with what’s going on at the coast right now. And there’ll even be some coastal flooding and some issues of a more minor nature across southeast Louisiana and into the tidal lakes.
Ben Schott: (11:33)
Unfortunately, the maps that I showed you do not account for rainfall. Those are just storm surge. So on top of the inundation that is possible from Hurricane Laura as it comes on shore, we are looking at up to 10 with localized amounts of 15 inches of rain possible along the coastal areas of the state. So you throw all that fresh water on top of the seawater coming in, again, you can imagine the picture that this may paint.
Ben Schott: (12:02)
Again, you can imagine the picture that this may paint. Inland as far north as Shreveport, flash flooding will be possible. So again, all portions of Western Louisiana need to understand that the heavy rainfall can create quick flash flooding. And as the governor mentioned earlier, if you were trying to travel in the heart of this storm, you are putting yourself and whoever’s in that vehicle definitely at risk. And with that, I’ll wrap up my comments and switch it over back to the governor. And before I do, I just wanted to double down on his comment about Rita. It is something that a lot of people will use that as their baseline. And I just want to kind of mention it again, that there is no way to be certain that if you lived through Rita and that you’re hunkering down today in an area that there was an evacuation notice, that you will survive. And so please, if as the governor mentioned, the Weather Service recommends everybody follow all local officials when it comes to evacuation notices. Thank you.
John Bel Edwards: (13:25)
Thank you, Ben. And one of the things that we’ve been told to expect, and we’re already seeing, is the ability for this storm system to produce tornadoes. And in fact, that area of concern will extend through Southeast Louisiana. If I’m not mistaken, just before I left the Overwatch room a warning was issued for capital area parishes with respect to tornadoes. So that’s something we have to be paying close attention to today and tomorrow as well. Obviously, a serious concern is people trying to drive on flooded roadways. It is normally the storm surge… It’s people out on flooded roadways. That’s what causes the most people to die, to be killed, as a result of storms. So we’re asking people to be particularly attentive to that. Do not drive through water if you don’t know how deep that water is. It doesn’t take much water to float an automobile, and you will sometimes lose control of the vehicle.
John Bel Edwards: (14:41)
It will be swept off the road because current is often imperceptible. And so we’re asking people to be very, very careful about that. Certainly, do not disregard any high water signs or warnings that have been put in place by DOTD or by local officials, and remember that storm surge flooding is starting now in Louisiana. It’s well ahead of the storm. It will just get worse over the next day or so, but it’s actually starting right now in the lowest lying areas along coastal Louisiana. And while we have focused a lot on Cameron and Calcasieu, please understand that Vermilion Parish, Iberia Parish, St. Mary Parish, all of these are at risk for flooding because of the storm surge. And in fact, Jefferson Davis, we actually expect that there will be several places, Calcasieu, Jefferson Davis, perhaps Acadia, where I-10 will be underwater at certain points during the course of this storm.
John Bel Edwards: (15:53)
And if we’re going to have that kind of flooding along I-10, then you know the areas between the coast and I-10 are at tremendous risk, especially those that are located near waterways. Again, we’re going to have the storm surge combining with the rain in order to create these flood conditions that are going to be very, very serious. And people know whether they live in low lying areas that are prone to flooding, but they don’t know, because we haven’t had a storm like this in so long, is just what the threat of this storm is compared to those of more recent years. And you can only contrast this storm to recent years. You cannot compare them. So I’m going to ask Dr. Wilson to come up now and talk more about transportation across the state of Louisiana, and then I’ll come back on the backside of that with some more information.
Dr. Wilson: (16:48)
Thank you, Governor. You know, to highlight the point you just made about a storm surge, we have sections of LA 1 in the southeastern portion of the state of Louisiana with standing water already, and it’s not raining. So you can imagine what we’re going to expect. And if you reflect back to the National Weather Service slide that showed Cameron Parish completely underwater, it’s about 180 miles of roads that the state is responsible for in Cameron Parish alone that will be underwater. So this is a very serious incident we’re dealing with. From a traffic standpoint, we have begun detouring commercial traffic north to I-20. We’ve asked folks in Mississippi and Texas… We’ve worked with our counterparts in those states to make sure all of the signage on I-10 reflects that, primarily going through Jasper in Texas, and then I-55 here in Louisiana to get I-20 to go east and west of Louisiana.
Dr. Wilson: (17:51)
And that’s to prevent us from having to use precious resources to try and evacuate folks that are trapped on the interstate when, not if, but when, we see water there. So that’s a very important factor. If you have to travel, we expect folks to move very quickly in this evacuation, and we would want to keep as much capacity as we possibly can on I-10. With regards to evacuation, that window is closing, and it’s closing very rapidly. The governor has worked very hard to make sure that we have all of the bus assets on the ground with staff at DOTD, and those buses are limited to 45 mile per hour winds. And before we left our UCG, they had their first gust coming from the first weather band. And we’re going to maintain those buses as much as possible at the [Burden 00:18:39] Center to then evacuate. But pretty soon, there will be very few assets to get folks out on the buses so that we can use those buses to rescue people and then repopulate from New Orleans and all points east of Lake Charles.
Dr. Wilson: (18:53)
We are actually moving our parish-wide assets, the people, out of the Cameron Parish District and the Calcasieu Parish District offices into Acadiana to ensure that they have all the materials and equipment they need to work their way back in because of the winds. And that’ll give you an idea that we normally hunker down in our warehouses and our facilities, and we’re asking them to step out to be able to be brought back in safely. And then the last thing I want to share with you is that we’re transitioning to the damage assessment phase, working with our federal partners to be able to assess the damage once we see this to try and reopen all of those places. We expect some serious damage along 27 and 82 in Cameron and South Calcasieu. 511 is still available, 511la.org.
Dr. Wilson: (19:39)
You will be able to find all of the road closures that are related to water inundation, and when they reopen. And then, we also will have our map patrol, a motor assist patrol, that will continue to work for 24 hours a day. And so to echo what the governor said, we want to maximize our resources. We don’t want to have to rescue you, so we would evacuate you now, and we would encourage everyone to please take full advantage. Be careful when you do that so we can get you safely back home once this incident is over. So with that, Governor, that’s some comments on transportation.
John Bel Edwards: (20:16)
Thank you, Dr. Wilson. I also want to thank the National Guard for providing bus drivers. The work has happened with DOTD to provide the buses, and DCFS for the assistance. We’ve been given individuals yesterday and overnight to get them out of Southwest Louisiana and into non-congregate shelters. That’s going to continue for as long as we can safely do it today, but that window is closing pretty quickly. We think we can keep those buses rolling at least till the 1:00 hour, maybe a little bit longer. We know it’s safer beyond that for a couple of hours for individuals to get in their private automobiles and their own automobiles, I should say, and not to move north and east to places where they can safely shelter. And we’re encouraging them to start that movement now. And I will remind people that the roads are not congested. You will be able to get out.
John Bel Edwards: (21:25)
The CPRA is monitoring a total of 689 gates in the coastal zone, 410 of which are now closed. CPRA is also working to identify pre-positioned pumps, generators, and other assets in South Central Louisiana so that they can start to de-water Southwest Louisiana as quickly as possible when it’s safe to do so. They’ll be working with the local levy authorities and government officials in order to make sure that we do that as soon as possible. We do believe that there will be extensive search and rescue following this storm, and that’s why we’re asking people to depopulate the area. Evacuate to minimize the number of people that we have to then rescue from very dangerous conditions. But we do anticipate that search and rescue will be a forthcoming as soon as it’s safe to do so. You should know that with the National Guard, Wildlife and Fisheries, the Fire Marshal’s office, and assistance we’re getting from around the country with Urban Search & Rescue, we will have a very robust effort that will start as quickly as we are able to do that.
John Bel Edwards: (22:42)
Speaking of the National Guard, they have more than 3000 guardsmen presently that are providing support. Those numbers will continue to increase throughout the day. The National Guard has approximately 222 high water vehicles and 65 boats manned and staged in Southern Louisiana prepared to provide search and rescue support as needed. They also have 19 aircraft prepared to support Hurricane Laura search and rescue. With respect to commodities, they have 921,000 liters of water, 528,000 MRE, strategically placed and ready to support the citizens of Louisiana. And I will pause again to say that our team in Louisiana, when it comes to disasters, when it comes to responding, we have the very best anywhere in the country. And I want to thank all of them at every single agency. And we also appreciate all the work that happens on the local level with sheriff’s offices and fire departments and OEPs, and you name it, and just people being good neighbors to one another. And certainly, we’re going to need some more neighborly love as we prepare for-
John Bel Edwards: (24:03)
… more neighborly love as we prepare for, respond to, and recover from this particular storm.
John Bel Edwards: (24:09)
I want to remind everybody that we have this historical storm at a time when we’re already in a public health emergency and the COVID situation remains very serious in Louisiana as well. Today we’re reporting 846 new cases and 32 additional deaths. You all are expecting an announcement today on my executive order, which expires on Friday. I will tell you now we’re going to extend the current phase two order for two additional weeks and take another look at it at that point in time. The challenge is we’re basically going to be blind for this week because we are having to discontinue much of our community based testing, whether it’s the surge testing sites, federally sponsored, or our community testing sites. And this comes at a particularly bad time for us because it’s two to three weeks since we resumed K through 12 education and since we started moving young people back onto college campuses. This is when you would really want to be looking really, really hard to see those first signs of whether we’re going to have increased cases, increased positivity. We won’t be able to have that this week.
John Bel Edwards: (25:25)
Secondly, we know tens of thousands of individuals from Southwest Louisiana in the area with the known highest positivity in the state are now evacuating to all parts of the state and will be there for some period of time. Obviously this poses additional risk. You should know that we were already high, I should say red, in terms of new cases that exceed 100 per 100,000 in population over the previous seven weeks. And about half of our parishes continue to be red with a positivity of more than 10%.
John Bel Edwards: (26:04)
We also know that the next two week period will include Labor Day. We certainly don’t want a type of spike that we saw on Memorial Day to happen while we are blind in terms of what the testing would otherwise reveal to us. So the prudent thing is to go two more weeks and then do an analysis of where we are, assuming that we’re going to have the data necessary to inform the decision then. But we’re going to be working really hard to do this. I will tell you that the recommendations from the White House are that we continue at our current level in terms of staying at phase two with all the current restrictions, including the closure to bars for on premises consumption, the statewide mask mandate, limiting gathering size and so forth. And that was made very clear to me earlier this week with a phone call from Dr. Birx, who called to discuss specifically the situation here in Louisiana.
John Bel Edwards: (27:08)
And of course at that time, she didn’t know, I guess none of us knew exactly how we would be impacted by the storm. And we still don’t know because once the storm is over, I can only imagine that there will be hundreds if not thousands of more individuals who, because they’re going to be rescued, we’re going to have to put them in shelters and we’re going to continue to try to do that in non-congregate settings, such as hotels and motels. But there may be some period of time, maybe as a transition, where we’re going to have to have mass sheltering available in the congregant setting.
John Bel Edwards: (27:43)
So we’ve got a lot going on in Louisiana. This is the appropriate thing to do for all of those reasons. And I’m asking everyone in the state, police don’t get so, I’m not going to say distracted because we need to be paying attention to the storm, but don’t solely pay attention to the storm. Understand we still have this COVID situation. And everything we do, we need to be wearing the mask, we need to be practicing social distancing, good hygiene, and so forth. Incredibly important. In fact, it’s more important now than ever before.
John Bel Edwards: (28:21)
Not just because of all the evacuations, the sheltering, the activities responding to and recovering from the storm. But in the last couple of weeks, one quarter of the state’s population was re-engaged in the education process. So more than a million people are students or faculty and staff K through 12 and higher education, and for the first time since March, they have been reactivated with respect to education across the state of Louisiana. So I am imploring the people of our state to do what you always do, and that is to take these things very seriously, be a good neighbor to one another, but understand that being a good neighbor right now means being distant, at least physically distant, socially distant, and wearing a mask.
John Bel Edwards: (29:10)
I’m encouraging any individual out there who asked questions, or they have a need around transportation. They want to know where they go to shelter or where they go to be picked up and brought to a shelter. Call your office of emergency preparedness. You can find that number at getagameplan.org, and there’s a contact sheet. You go there and you will find your parish OEP number so that you can call them and get that information. You can also text LA shelter to 898211. LA shelter to 898211.
John Bel Edwards: (29:48)
So look, this is a very serious storm. In the five years I’ve been governor, I don’t believe I’ve had a press conference where it was my to convey the sense of urgency that I am trying to convey right now. So if for some reason I have not done that adequately, I apologize, but I’m asking people right now to pay attention to this storm, to get out of harm’s way if there’s an evacuation order in place, whether it’s mandatory or voluntary, and understand our state hasn’t seen a storm surge like this in many, many decades. We haven’t seen wind speeds like we’re going to experience in a very, very long time as well.
John Bel Edwards: (30:35)
So with that, I’m going to pause to take your questions for a bit, and we’ll remind you that you can direct your questions to anyone on the team.
John Bel Edwards: (30:47)
Speaker 1: (30:50)
[inaudible 00:30:50] how many do you expect? [inaudible 00:30:56]
John Bel Edwards: (30:57)
Yeah. Well, we know that we’ve got about 2000 hotel and motel rooms tonight that we’ve contracted for and we’re continuing to contract for more as we find available rooms. Last night, we put up more than 800 in hotel rooms. The vast majority of people, however, who evacuated are not asking the state for assistance. And there’s a little difference anytime you’re in a different part of the state. The vast majority of people who are evacuating from Southwest Louisiana, because we don’t have a lot of public transportation there, they own their own vehicles and they’re getting out on their own. So the best guess I can give you looking at the traffic from yesterday and what I’ve been told today by parish leaders, it’s tens of thousands of people who have actually left Southwest Louisiana, but it will probably be by nightfall tonight around 2000 or so that we have assisted in getting out and getting into a shelter.
John Bel Edwards: (32:03)
And again, I think these numbers are going to go up after the storm once people have to be rescued from a house that is not habitable, and then we’re going to be putting them up in shelters. Again, first priority will be non-congregant sheltering. But in order to transition and get them into those hotel and motel rooms where they’re available, we may have to, at some point, open up congregant sheltering, which we will do. We’re ready to do that if we have to.
John Bel Edwards: (32:34)
John Bel Edwards: (32:40)
We haven’t activated the entire National Guard since hurricane Isaac, but we’re doing it now because we anticipate a need for very robust search and rescue efforts using the full array that they have, aircraft, watercraft, high water vehicles. But also we’re leaning forward to restarting our community based testing as soon as we possibly can. And so national guardsmen are running those sites for us, both the federal surge sites and the sites that we’re running ourselves as a state. And they’re also doing work at food banks. And so we still are in this pandemic emergency, and that’s why we’re going to have to have the entire National Guard for some period of time, understanding that many national guardsman guardsmen in their nine to five jobs, their regular jobs, are first responders. And many of them actually live in the areas that’s actually being evacuated.
John Bel Edwards: (33:46)
So General Waddell is managing all of that and doing extremely well at it, I might add. And I’ve been very gratified to receive calls from neighboring governors offering their assistance, and we will be drawing up on their assets, particularly in the National Guard, because not every state has the same type of equipment and the same type of trained units. So we will be looking for Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas. And by the way, beyond that, we have people on the ground in Louisiana now, not National Guard, but search and rescue individuals from Tennessee and from elsewhere. And so we have staged an awful lot of resources and assets that we’re going to be able to bring to bear just as soon as it is safe to do so.
John Bel Edwards: (34:38)
And look, we know we’re going to have to do search and rescue. But I’m imploring the people in low lying areas who have been asked to evacuate, do that so that we don’t have to come looking for you and we can go spend time on other individuals who may not live in an area that is prone to flooding, or for some other reason they just can’t get out. But those people who can, you’ve got the time to do it now. So please do it.
John Bel Edwards: (35:05)
Speaker 3: (35:07)
Governor, are you still concerned that people in [inaudible 00:35:10] and the Southwest part of the state aren’t evacuating in big enough numbers? And also, do you think the state’s going to have enough hotel rooms available after the fact, once homes are destroyed and people need a place to stay? Or is that why you think there’s going to be need for shelter?
John Bel Edwards: (35:24)
Yeah. Well, first of all, I’m always concerned about whether everyone’s evacuating who needs to be evacuating, especially when you hear things like unsurvivable surge. And we know that we’re going to have life-threatening floodwaters in places that haven’t seen it in a very, very long time. And so, yeah, I’m concerned about that. That’s why I started this press conference. So I didn’t want to wait the 40 minutes or so to make the point. I wanted people to have that 40 minutes to start putting things in their vehicle and getting out of the area. So yes, we are concerned. Look, we’re going to take advantage of all of-
John Bel Edwards: (36:03)
We’re going to take advantage of all of the space available, the hotels and motels that we can contract for, understanding that we have more crew members in Louisiana pre-positioned to restore electricity from various companies from across the country than we’ve ever had before a storm right now. So we’re competing with them for space for sheltering. But there’s a lot of hotels and motels in Louisiana, we don’t have a lot of tourism going on right now because of COVID. We will use all of that available space. But look, we don’t have to stop inside the state line. So if we have to push people into Texas or into Arkansas or Mississippi, we’ll do that as well. And so we’re going to find the non-congregate sheltering as best we can for as many people as we can as fast as we can because we want them to be safe from the storm and from COVID. And again, we will use our congregate shelters as necessary, but hopefully for as short a period of time as possible. Yes, sir.
Speaker 4: (37:17)
John Bel Edwards: (37:20)
Well, we own shelters in the Alexandria and Shreveport area. And I’m hesitant to tell you the answer to this because we don’t want people driving up to those shelters yet because we’re still directing people to hotels and motels. But you know where they are in Alexandria, the mass shelter facility we have there, the mega shelter. And also Joella up in Shreveport. And look, there are some parishes that have shelters open as well, but we really don’t want people using that congregant shelter unless it’s an absolute last resort.
John Bel Edwards: (37:57)
And by the way, when we use them, we’re going to make them as safe as they can possibly be during COVID. But we cannot make them as safe as if people are able to occupy a hotel room or a motel room and get those families together and not in close proximity to people from outside of the household. But we’re going to have masks, we’re going to have distancing to maximum extent possible, the sanitation is going to be there, and all of those things. But we just know that that environment is more conducive to the spread of the virus than a hotel, motel. Greg.
Speaker 3: (38:33)
John Bel Edwards: (38:34)
You certainly may. In fact, I welcome that.
Speaker 3: (38:41)
When you say there will be a sustained wind at 145 miles an hour with gusts of 170 miles and hour, what does that look like? That will leave some places unrecognizable. [inaudible 00:02: 58].
Ben Schott: (39:03)
That’s a good question. I’ve been at this job for awhile and done a lot of damage surveys, mostly of tornadoes. I’ve been here on the coast for a couple years. When you see a strong tornado, and it’s a much more localized event, speeds of that nature will completely level a house. The difference here with it, there’s some physics difference. But the thing is is everyone needs to understand is that you’re seeing sustained winds at 145, it’s preying on every weak point of any structure, any weakness in any tree, and it’s continuing and continuing and continuing for possibly multiple hours. Now, when the storm comes on shore, it’s going to weaken. It’s going to continue to weaken as it moves all the way up to Shreveport before it finally becomes a tropical storm and is no longer a hurricane, according to the current forecast.
Ben Schott: (39:58)
So what people need to understand is that first 50, 60 miles inland, I’m not saying that every single thing that stands right now is going to be laid to waste. But what people need to understand is is a lot of structures are going to be leveled, trees and large swaths are going to be down, power lines down. So there are going to be neighborhoods, there’s going to be places, whether it be rural or in a town, that are going to be unrecognizable. You could drive by them today and drive by them in a couple of days and not realize you’re in the same spot. And there’s a history of this with all sorts of storms. I still like to use the recent one of Michael on the Florida panhandle and into Georgia. Even to this day, they’re still trying to rebuild and take care of things from that storm. Though that was a slightly stronger storm, I still think it is a great example for us to understand how widespread this damage may be and how significant the damage may be and that the risks are there beyond the water.
Ben Schott: (41:13)
So if you’re inland, these extreme winds, again, may be seen well inland. And that’s something that most people don’t assume. They assume with a hurricane, the extreme ones are at the coast. And if I live 30, 50 miles in, I’m okay. I can’t say that for this storm because it’s moving at a fast clip. It’s going to be moving at 15, 16, 17 miles per hour. So with 145 sustained and gusts over 170, it’s easy to have over 100 mile per hour winds 50, 60 miles inland. And in maybe a 20, 30 mile swath.
John Bel Edwards: (42:01)
Speaker 3: (42:03)
Governor, have you heard from President Trump? I know that he [inaudible 00:06:05].
John Bel Edwards: (42:09)
I talked to the president on Sunday. I spoke with Administrator Gaynor yesterday. I also spoke with Secretary Carson yesterday. I will speak with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross later today. So I have not spoken to the president since Sunday, but they’ve been paying a lot of attention to us here, especially out of FEMA Region 6 in Texas. And so, our communication is good. It’s more important right now that we’re talking to the people in southwest Louisiana because, quite frankly, what Washington can do for us, and they’re already working on this, is all post-storm relief now. We still have a few hours left, but that’s all we’ve got is a few hours to get people in a better position. And that’s what we’re focused on right now.
John Bel Edwards: (43:12)
Okay. So look, I want to, again, urge the people of Louisiana to take this storm with the seriousness that it clearly deserves. Put yourself and your family in the best possible position in the next few hours. That means evacuating from those areas that are under an evacuation order, voluntary or mandatory. And once it gets dark, understand the weather’s going to degrade so fast and it’s going to be so bad, the worst thing you can do at that point in time, if you’re in southwest Louisiana, is to try to leave then. Because there will be many more hazards on the road. And look, it’s going to be really, really tough in your house as well. Which is why we’re trying to get you to make the right decision now. And that is to leave.
John Bel Edwards: (44:06)
The second thing is you may not have good communications as the storm comes ashore because telephone lines and cell towers and so forth may be interrupted. But even if you have good communication and you try to call for help, we don’t typically send out first responders to help while an emergency, I’m sorry, while a hurricane is raging. And so you’re not going to going to be able to avail yourself of assistance should you need it. And so we’re trying to get you to heed the warnings now so that that doesn’t happen.
John Bel Edwards: (44:45)
And then finally, I would encourage people to pray for our state and for people all across our state, particularly in southwest Louisiana. Look, when you get a briefing like Ben just gave us on what to expect from this storm, it’s kind of hard to know what to pray for. But I know that we’re faithful people here in Louisiana. We know how to pray and for one another and for our families, and I encourage you to do that so that the impacts won’t be what we just heard discussed or that if those are the impacts, that the people who are vulnerable to it get out of the area so that we don’t suffer the loss of life that would otherwise occur.
John Bel Edwards: (45:31)
So with that, we don’t anticipate having another press conference today. We will if something changes, if there’s information that we need to convey to you all. I would anticipate that we will have a press conference tomorrow. We’ll give you the exact time on that. But just because we’re not going to have another press conference from here, doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be paying attention. Watch your local news. Look at the National Weather Service. Pay attention for directives coming out of your offices of emergency preparedness and other local elected officials. And when you get that information, use it to make the best possible decision and make those decisions timely because our window is closing over the next several hours.
John Bel Edwards: (46:19)
So God bless you, God bless our state. Let’s do the best we can. And I pray that the next time I speak to you all, we’re talking about how we were able to cope and the fact that that people did heed the warning and evacuate, that we were able to get them into safe shelters, safe from the storm and safe from COVID, all of those sorts of things. But we’re only going to be able to have that conversation based on what people do over the next couple of hours. So God bless. We’ll see you all tomorrow.