Sep 14, 2020

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Press Conference Transcript September 14: Hurricane Sally

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Press Conference Transcript September 14: Hurricane Sally
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsLouisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards Press Conference Transcript September 14: Hurricane Sally

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards held a press conference on September 14. He addressed Hurricane Sally and urged people to prepare for the storm. Read the full transcript here.

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John Bel Edwards: (00:05)
Good afternoon. And thank all of you for being here again today. Earlier today, Sally officially strengthened into a hurricane. According to the latest forecast, she’s projected to make landfall as a category two hurricane either tomorrow morning in extreme Southeast Louisiana in Plaquemines Parish, or perhaps early Wednesday morning on the Mississippi Gulf coast, or I guess could be both. As you know, last night at 10 o’clock and then earlier today, the track of the hurricane as it’s forecasted has shifted to the East in both of those revised forecasts. But parts of Louisiana remain in the cone, and we need to be very careful about that. And they include much of the New Orleans Metro area, including Plaquemines Parish, St. Bernard Parish, but also St. Tammany and Washington Parishes. And we always know that the impacts can be felt outside the cone as well. And in fact, that always happens.

John Bel Edwards: (01:26)
And one thing that we tend to forget about is one third of the time, landfall will happen outside of the cone, either East or West. So, I guess what I’m saying is everyone needs to continue to pay very close attention. And that’s because the storm threatens still seven to 11 feet of surge from the mouth of the Mississippi River, all the way to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. And that includes the Lake Borgne. Three to five feet of storm surge within Lake Pontchartrain, and [inaudible 00:02:02], I should say. And then rain is still possible, between eight and 16 inches.

John Bel Edwards: (02:07)
That’s obviously an awful lot of rain. The other challenge here, it remains a very slow moving storm, and the center is irregular. And I think that that causes some problems with respect to accurately forecasting it. But what we know with a slow moving storm, if one of those bands of rain settle over part of Louisiana, we know that flooding is going to be a big concern. Yesterday, I submitted a request for a Pre-landfall Emergency Declaration to the White House. That declaration has been signed by the president. We got word of that just before I came over here a few minutes ago.

John Bel Edwards: (02:52)
And so direct federal assistance is available statewide. And category B, or what we call emergency protective measures, are available improved now in the 30 parishes that we requested. Also today, I spoke with Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. He and I had a nice conversation this morning. And based on where that storm actually makes landfall and causes the most significant impacts, I made sure he knew that we were going to be leaning forward. And if we have personnel and assets that are available in Southeast Louisiana that we don’t need in order to respond to the storm, and he has needs in Mississippi, that we would certainly make those available there to the good people of Mississippi.

John Bel Edwards: (03:41)
And in fact, all of the agency heads at the state of Louisiana have been communicating and coordinating with their counterparts in Mississippi to make sure that that can happen seamlessly. We’ve also talked to Mississippi about [inaudible 00:03:59] sheltering during COVID and lessons we’ve learned, and making sure that if they have the need to evacuate and shelter individuals, that they can take advantage of our experience with that, including the great partnership we’ve enjoyed with the American Red Cross.

John Bel Edwards: (04:17)
I do want folks to understand that FEMA is bringing in additional resources to the state in order to meet the needs of our citizens related to Sally. We are not moving resources that have already been brought in for those still trying to recover from Hurricane Laura. And we appreciate the partnership we’ve had with FEMA, and of course the needs of Louisiana citizens because of Hurricane Laura remain. And I want those citizens to know that we’re going to continue to work on the recovery from Laura, even as we prepare for and respond to Hurricane Sally. And that includes everything from power restoration, to sheltering evacuees, to additional transportation if necessary, the points of distribution that have been conducted by the National Guard, but also by the American Red Cross, all of the security work, the generator work, the work done to de-water parts of Southwest Louisiana and to restore water systems, and to hopefully move away from the boil advisories. And all of the things that we’ve been doing, we will continue to do those without interruption.

John Bel Edwards: (05:37)
I can tell you that GOHSEP has fulfilled dozens of requests for support from our local partners with respect to Hurricane Sally, primarily there for items like generators and sandbags and pumps and bottled water. GOHSEP will continue to coordinate resources needed for evacuation orders issued at the local level. And there are a number of those that continue to be in effect, both mandatory and voluntary. The National Guard continues to have over 4,800 guardsmen activated in support of emergency operations for both Laura and Sally. Currently the state fire marshal has 141 boat crews staged in the state if needed. The wildlife and fisheries have 70 agents with boats. And we also, pursuant to EMAC request made earlier, we’ve got teams coming in from other states to help with search and rescue. As for sheltering, if you’ve been sheltered in Southeast Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Laura, so if you’re one of those individuals, and there are nearly 12,000 of them in the New Orleans area in a hurricane, sorry, in a hotel, you should stay put in your shelter.

John Bel Edwards: (06:56)
We’re going to be making sure that we continue to care for you there. We’re not going to be evacuating in advance of Hurricane Sally, but we do want you to stay alert for updates from your shelter manager at your hotel. As of this morning, there were 12,759 people being sheltered in the state following Hurricane Laura. Again, right at 12,000 of those were in New Orleans. There are also 5,300 in Texas, so about 18,000 people overall. And I do want you all to understand that we are very, very appreciative of the folks in Texas for doing this for so many Louisiana citizens and for this extended period of time. And we look forward to working with them.

John Bel Edwards: (07:44)
And if you had the question, we will be responsible for the cost share associated with sheltering Louisiana citizens in Texas. And they will submit that to us for payment when the time comes. But for up-to-date sheltering information, you can text LA shelter to 898211, LA shelter to 898211. On the subject of Laura, I did want to remind you that over the weekend FEMA approved three new parishes for individual assistance. They are Caddo Parish, Lasalle Parish, and St. Landry Parish. That brings the total number of parishes where people are eligible for this individual assistance to 21. As of this morning, more than 142,000 households have already registered for FEMA aid, individual assistance. Remember, you can register by going to disasterassistance.gov. In relation to those registrations, FEMA has already given out more than $89 million in relief aid to these families.

John Bel Edwards: (08:55)
And the Small Business Administration has paid out another 19 million to help residents recover and rebuild. The Department of Children and Family Services is now taking DSNAP applications for the first nine of 18 parishes approved for virtual DSNAP following Hurricane Laura. These parishes include Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, Rapides, Vermillion and Vernon. Now, because we’re doing DSNAP virtually this year for the first time in our history, and this is the only I think the third time it’s been done in the country, and the first two were relatively small emergencies. So this is the largest application in the country’s history of virtual DSNAP. But because it’s virtual, the individuals who are trying to take advantage of this don’t need to go to any site in order to wait in line or in the heat or in an unsafe COVID environment that you typically see at the traditional DSNAP application sites. Instead, applicants call lahelpu. That’s 1-888-lahelpu.

John Bel Edwards: (10:22)
So they call that call center between eight and five, according to an alphabet system, they should call on their designated day. Thus far, we have 15,000 households that have applied, and the application process seems to be working very well. And if you pre-register, that saves you some time, but you still have to call in in order to actually apply. Because your eligibility still has to be determined. So we encourage all of those individuals who are interested in DSNAP to call the lahelpu call center, which is 1-888-lahelpu. As for office closures, tomorrow offices will be closed. State offices will be closed in the following parishes, and these were all related to Hurricane Sally, Orleans, Jefferson, Lafourche, Terrebonne, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. James, St. John, St. Charles, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington.

John Bel Edwards: (11:40)
The Laura closures will continue tomorrow as well in the following three parishes: Cameron, Calcasieu and Beauregard. I just want to remind everybody again, whether you’re in the cone or not, make sure that you’re paying attention to all of the information that comes from the weather service or the local weather forecast. Make sure you’re paying attention to local elected officials and heeding any guidance that they give you. Make sure that you’re on the lookout for flooded roads, and do not travel through roads if you’re unsure how deep the water is or how fast the current may be moving.

John Bel Edwards: (12:26)
If you see a road that’s flooded and you’re not absolutely 100% sure that it’s safe, turn around. Don’t drown. And you can always go to 511la.org, that’s 511la.org, for real time information on road closures. For updates from the governor’s office on tropical storm Sally, you can text Sally to 67283. With respect to COVID today, as if we don’t have enough things to cover with Laura and now Sally, with respect to COVID, many community testing sites are closed today and tomorrow because of Hurricane Sally, but there are nine community testing sites open today. We encourage people to continue to be tested.

John Bel Edwards: (13:21)
Obviously, the COVID public health emergency doesn’t take time off in order for us to deal with the natural disasters that we’ve seen of late. So everything we do, we have to be mindful that we’re still doing them in a public health emergency, and it remains extremely important that people wear a mask or other face covering, continue to engage in social distancing when you’re around people not from your immediate household, wash your hands frequently, stay home when you are sick, and please protect especially the most vulnerable. And if you are one of those folks who are vulnerable because you’re 65 or older or have one of the comorbid health conditions we’ve been talking about so long, understand that you are safer at home than you are anywhere else. Today, we added 497 new cases of COVID-19 on 12,569 new tests. And sadly, we have reported also 17 new deaths today. Hospitalizations have dropped by 16 to 664 across the state, which is a good sign. And we have two fewer people on vents today than we reported previously. And that’s 105 individuals total.

John Bel Edwards: (14:50)
The past 24 hours or so have shown a couple of shifts eastward on the track for Hurricane Sally. Whether that’s going to continue or not, we don’t know. That’s why it’s really important that people pay close attention to this storm. Obviously, if that continues to happen, that’s good news for our state. That is not good news to our neighbors in Mississippi and in Alabama. And so we’re going to work very hard to make sure we’re prepared for the impacts here in Louisiana. Regardless of what the storm does, you need to do likewise.

John Bel Edwards: (15:27)
And we’re also going to make sure that we’re prepared to be a good neighbor to Mississippi and Alabama, and you should do likewise with respect to your neighbors as well as it relates to the storm. And I know that you will. Louisiana excels at being a good neighbor, unlike any other state. So I know that we will do that. I also want to remind people that with everything that’s going on, we still can’t lose sight of the big picture. There are currently five name storms in the Atlantic. That’s the most at any one time since 1971. And hurricane season continues until November the first.

John Bel Edwards: (16:12)
I think this has happened before. I don’t recall it. But with six weeks left in the hurricane season, we’re about to run out of names in the alphabet that we use. When that happens, they’ll go to the Greek alphabet. So please pay attention to Sally, be weather aware. Our next press conference is scheduled for 2:00 PM tomorrow here at the Academic Building of State Police. And with that, I will take a few questions. Yes, sir.

Speaker 2: (16:46)
What’s the status of the Unemployment Trust Fund right now? And how far along in the process for getting a loan is [inaudible 00:16:53]?

John Bel Edwards: (16:54)
Well, the report I got this morning showed we’re about $143 million left in the state Unemployment Trust Fund. When the September RAC meeting forecasts that that fund will drop below $100 million, then it requires us to do things. And I will tell you, the Workforce Commission has already been working to prepare for a loan application. We were hoping it wouldn’t be necessary because we had hoped that Congress was going to pass another stimulus package for COVID. We know that the House passed something months ago. The Senate tried to pass something I think as recently as last week. But it does appear that those negotiations have stalled, and perhaps nothing is forthcoming. And so I think you’re going to hear something relatively soon about us borrowing money from the US Treasury in order to replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund so that we can continue to pay those benefits according to the state statute.

John Bel Edwards: (18:02)
We do have one more… Payments went out today on Lost Wage Assistance, and then there’s one more week of Lost Wage Assistance that we’re going to be paying. We’ve applied for that money. It’s about $92 million. You will remember that this Lost Wage Assistance comes from the Disaster Relief Fund because it’s being funded through FEMA. And so we’re waiting for that money to come in. And when it is, we will make that last week’s worth of payments. And that’s for the week that ends September the fourth or fifth. I can’t remember the exact end date. We don’t have any enhanced federal unemployment assistance that we know about from that point forward. And so that’s another reason why Congress needs to go back to work and sit down and figure out this next stimulus package, because we know that we’re going to have, not just in Louisiana but around the country, an awful lot of unemployed people who need that enhanced assistance. Any other questions? Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 3: (19:02)
I know it was a priority after Laura [inaudible 00:19:11]. If there were a lot of people displaced by this storm, will you be able to house them in [inaudible 00:19:19]?

John Bel Edwards: (19:18)
Well, it would be very difficult to do in the state of Louisiana. And so I will tell you that at least as a short term housing option for evacuees, were it to be required because of this storm or because we may be sheltering in hotels, evacuees from Laura, for another few weeks. We don’t know. So whether it’s Sally or the next storm that might hit us, we would likely have to open up our congregant shelters, at least for some period of time, until we could find adequate hotel space for them. And depending on how many evacuees it is, there’s almost certainly going to have to be hotels found outside the state of Louisiana in order to accommodate that.

John Bel Edwards: (20:05)
And FEMA and GOHSEP, or I’m sorry, I should say GOHSEP has been working with other states, with the assistance of FEMA, to try to identify those areas that would be stepping up in order to take our evacuees. But that is a real challenge. And it’s one of the reasons that, quite frankly, I’m glad that the storm is not scheduled to be or forecasted to be stronger than it is. Because if it were, we would have to engage in our evacuation of the New Orleans metropolitan area, for example. And it wouldn’t just be the evacuees from Laura, but it would be many more people that we’d have to shelter. So, we’re thankful that we don’t have to do that at this point. Yes, sir.

Speaker 4: (20:56)
Could you characterize the severity of the unemployment problem right now given that assuming that things do drop below $100 million, the benefits are reduced themselves by about $25, and so now this is the lowest payment in this entire [inaudible 00:21:13]?

John Bel Edwards: (21:13)
Yeah. And that happens, as far as we know right now, without any enhanced federal assistance. So obviously, this is a very serious situation. And quite frankly, I don’t want to mislead people by saying if the trust fund drops below $100 million, it’s going to drop below $100 million. That is what the RAC is going to forecast when it meets this month. And that’s going to trigger the borrowing of funds. And again, we were hoping to replenish the trust fund so that we can continue to pay the state benefits. We do hope the next round of stimulus gets passed that contains an enhanced benefit. I think the House of Representatives passed a bill as $600. I think that the Senate introduced a bill at $300 a week. Somewhere in there, there’s got to be a compromise, you would think. Along with the rest of that bill, and we really need for Congress to sit down and do its work and not wait until after the election. I mean, that’s November the third, I believe. We really can’t wait that long for assistance, especially if you’re one of these unemployed workers.

John Bel Edwards: (22:29)
So tomorrow, we’ll have a press conference back here at 2:00 PM again. I do encourage people to continue to follow the news, the weather forecast, heed the advice given by your local officials and let’s watch the track of the storm. And obviously what’s good for us isn’t good for our neighbors. And so if we get the benefit of a further eastward shift in the track, we’re going to make sure that we’re prepared to do everything we can for the folks in Mississippi and in Alabama so that they can deal with the aftermath of the storm when it comes in. But as of right now, Southeast Louisiana, especially that Metro New Orleans area, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Washington Parish and St. Tammany Parish could see significant storm surge and rain. And so we need to continue to pay strict attention to this. And let’s pray for the best outcome possible. Thank you all. And we’ll see you tomorrow.

Nature Cat: (23:41)
The winter solstice is amazing, Daisy.

Daisy: (23:45)
Thanks, Nature Cat.

Speaker 7: (23:46)
So much light, Daisy honey. I just love getting-