Remarks by President Biden on Hurricane Ida Response Efforts
South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
12:09 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Sorry to keep you waiting; I was getting further updates.
I just spoke with Governor Hochul of New York and Governor Murphy of New Jersey, and I plan to speak with Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania after last night’s devastating storm and floods from Hurricane Ida — the fifth-largest hurricane in our history.
Record rain fell on these states. New York recorded more rain yesterday — the first day of September — than it usually sees the entire month of September. We saw more than three inches of rain per hour fall in Central Park.
The United States National Weather Service issued a flood emergency in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and parts of Long Island last night. This is the first time that such a warning has ever been issued for the city.
People were trapped in the subways, but the heroic men and women of the New York Fire Department rescued all of them. They were trapped.
We’re seeing the same story of devastation and heroism across New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well.
For now, 11 people in New York and New Jersey died because of the storm.
And I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of the first responders and everyone who’s been working through the night and well into this morning to save lives and get power back.
There’s lot of damage, and I made clear to the governors that my team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency — FEMA — is on the ground and ready to provide all the assistance that’s needed.
In fact, our FEMA Director — Administrator — (coughs) — excuse me — Deanne Criswell will — was the chief federal response officer after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. She knows what to do.
And last night, at the request of California Governor Newsom, I approved an emergency declaration for California for the — for the Caldor Fire, which is burning aggressively toward Lake Tahoe Basin and into Nevada. It’s also one of few fires that has ever burned from one side of the Sierra-Nevada mountain range to the other.
So far, it’s burned more than 200,000 acres. Tens of thousands of people have been — had to evacuate their homes. The fire is threatening close to 35,000 structures. And more than 4,400 firefighters from the state and my federal team are working to contain and suppress this raging wildfire.
The Department of Defense has trained and is deploying additional firefighters to support our ongoing firefighting efforts in California.
This disaster declaration will help with evacuation, including sheltering and feeding for those who have been displaced.
I want you to know: I’ve seen these firefighters up close. Their courage is astounding, and they’re some of the bravest people I’ve ever known — and I’ve known a lot of them. My heart goes out to them. My thanks is — is an abundant thanks for what they do.
Now I want to provide an update on our efforts to help millions of Americans down South recover and rebuild from Hurricane Ida.
We’ve been monitoring hur- — this hurricane closely and the devastation it’s caused. To date, six deaths. About a million homes are without power in Louisiana and Mississippi.
While the catastrophic flooding wasn’t as severe as it was during Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago, Ida was so powerful that it caused the Mississippi River literally to change direction — the flow — change the flow temporarily.
The good news is that, as a result of a significant multi-billion-dollar federal investment in the levee system around metro New Orleans, it held. It was strong. It worked.
But too many people and too many areas are still unprotected and saw a storm surge and flooding that was devastating.
We’ve seen reports of winds up to 170 miles per hour — it’s not been confirmed yet by FEMA, but 170 miles an hour — causing unimaginable damage, with debris and downed powerlines making roads impassable and slowing response efforts to save folks and property. You know, the people continue to shelter in place.
Tomorrow, I’ll be traveling to Louisiana to meet with
Governor John Bel Edwards, as well as the parish presidents and mayors and the local officials representing the affected areas.
Governor Edwards encouraged me to come and assured me that the visit will not disrupt recovery efforts on the ground. That’s what I wanted to be sure of.
My message to everyone affected is: We’re all in this together. The nation is here to help.
That’s the message I’ve been making clear to the mayors, governors, energy and utility leaders in the region, who my administration has been working closely with over the past few days.
Working with governors in the area, even before Ida made landfall, I issued emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi to help us respond quickly.
FEMA pre-positioned more than 4.3 million meals and more than 3 million liters of water, and other critical resources in the region before it hit.
We deplored [sic] more — we deployed more than 250 generators, and we’re working to getting more into the area, especially to hospitals in desperate need of them.
The Department of Health and Human Services deployed 250 — a 250-bed federal medical shelter in New Orleans and five medical assistance teams available throughout the state.
Since the hurricane hit, more than 6,000 members of the National Guard have been activated in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas, and other states to support search and rescue and recovery efforts.
For those who have lost their homes, states have been working with the Red — American Red Cross to open almost 50 shelters across the Gulf Coast.
We know that there is much to be done in this response on our part. We need to get power restored. We need to get more food, fuel, and water deployed.
I get hourly updates on the progress from FEMA, well into the night, and we’ll be working around the clock until the critical needs of the region are fully met. And we will meet them.
Even as we tackle the core elements of the disaster response, we’re also deploying new tools to help speed this recovery –- things that have not been used very much in prior hurricane responses.
Working with private companies that own and operate the life-line infrastructure, like electricity and communications, we’ve used the latest technology to accelerate restoration of power and cellphone service. It’s beginning to get back up and has a long way to go.
For example, to minimize the amount of time it will take to get the power back to everyone, I’ve directed the Federal Aviation
Commission [Administration] — the FAA –- to authorize the use of surveillance drones to assist [sic] Ida’s damage — to assess Ida’s damage to energy infrastructure, while ensuring those flights do not disrupt aerial search and rescue missions.
Likewise, I’ve asked the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Energy to immediately make available any satellite imagery they can help provide in assessing the extent of the damage.
Drones and satellites can make the work faster by getting to the places that are most desperately in need. They can identify where the lines are down, map the damage, help get the transmission lines back up and running in all the parishes.
But people — hardworking people –- do the complicated and dangerous work. There are more than 25,000 linemen and clearance crews from 32 states and the District of Columbia racing to restore power.
In Alabama, two have died on the job. This is complicated and really dangerous work. But we’re moving as fast as humanly possible to get it done.
It’s important to know that the region hit by Ida is a key center of our nation’s oil production and refining infrastructure.
That’s why we’re not waiting to assess the full impact that the storm is going to have on oil production and refineries.
We’re moving already, quickly, to increase the availability of gas and easing the pressure on gas prices around the country.
I’ve directed the Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, to use all of the tools at her disposal, including using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to keep gas flowing to the pumps.
In order to get critical supplies to the region to beat the pandemic, I directed the Department of Transportation to renew an
energy [emergency] declaration to provide flexibility on how many hours a truck driver can drive. Most people don’t know there’s a limitation on the number of hours you can be on the road.
The Transportation Department is broadening that emergency declaration to include transportation of gasoline and other types of fuel as well, in addition to medical supplies and food.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved emergency waivers for Louisiana and Mississippi that will expand the supply of gasoline that can be sold in those states and increase availability at such a critical time.
These actions should help reduce the risk of gas shortages and price increases as a result of the hurricane.
We also know a lot of people lost cellphone service because their particular carrier’s tower went down or got damaged.
A few days ago, I asked the Federal Communications Commission -– the FCC -– and my White House team to work with the cellphone companies to allow customers to use roaming services. So that means that folks in the area should be able to get a signal no matter what carrier they’re with. If their one carrier is down, they can roam and use another carrier they’re not part of — they’re not signed up with.
Just think of the sons and the daughters and the moms and dads of loved ones trying to reach each other and the feeling of fear, of “maybe something happened,” and it’s just because they can’t — the cellphone is not working. Think of the millions of people reaching out for help.
This is important and it’s critical.
Now, a lot of private companies and public entities are doing their part. Today, I’m calling on insurance companies not to evade their responsibility to keep the priorities they made to their customers and the promises they made, and help some folks who are hurting.
Here’s the deal: FEMA is providing critical need assistance, for example, to help with the hotel bill you racked up because you couldn’t stay in your home during the hurricane. The Department of Housing and Urban
Affairs [Development] -– HUD –- is also offering assistance to families in impacted areas.
But, right now, we’re hearing reports that some insurance companies may deny coverage for additional living assistance expenses unless the homeowner was under a mandatory evacuation order.
So, people paid their insurance premiums and they’re supposed to get payments from their insurance companies for relocation costs. But the insurance companies, in the face of the strongest storm since 1850, say, “No, no, we’re not going to pay you what we owe you.”
Because the fact is, parishes in Louisiana, like New Orleans and St. John, issued a voluntary evacuation order at first and may not have even have had enough time to make a mandatory one as the storm moved in so fast.
Other parishes — a voluntary evacuation order suggested that residents could try to protect themselves by sheltering in place against the ferocious winds. But we can all understand why folks felt safest leaving their homes and going elsewhere, out of the path of the devastating storm.
No one — no one fled this killer storm because they were looking for a vacation or a road trip. You’re able to stay in a hotel. They left their homes because they felt it was flee or risk death. There’s nothing voluntary about that.
So, I’m calling on private insurance companies right now, at this critical moment: Don’t hide behind the fine print and technicality. Do your job. Keep your commitments to your communities that you insure. Do the right thing and pay your policy holders what you owe them to cover the cost of temporary housing in the midst of a natural disaster. Help those in need.
That’s what all of us need to do. That’s what we’re trying to do. FEMA has pushed out $77 million to the people of Louisiana so far — individuals.
My message to the people of the Gulf Coast, who I’m going to visit tomorrow: We are here for you. And we’re making sure the response and recovery is equitable so that those hit hardest get the resources they need and are not left behind.
Whether you’re a homeowner, a renter, a parent, a small-business owner — no matter who you are, if you live in the affected area, please visit DisasterAssistance.gov. Go online and vis- — DisasterAssistance.gov to find help now. That’s DisasterAssistance.gov. Or call 1-800-621-FEMA — F-E-M-A. 1-800-621-FEMA — F-E-M-A. That’s 1-800-621-3362. There’s help you can qualify for right away.
I’ve talked — I’ve tasked my senior advisor, Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans neighbor and former Congressman from Louisiana’s 2nd District for 10 years, to lead this relief effort. He knows the area. He knows the people. He knows how to get things done. And he knows how to get things done when local, state, and federal level are all working together alongside the private sector.
The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are resilient and resourceful. We’re going to stand with you for as long as it takes to recover and allow you to rebuild.
And to the country: The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate clisis [sic] — crisis are here.
We need to do — be much better prepared. We need to act.
When Congress returns this month, I’m going to press for their action on my Build Back Better plan. That’s going to make historic investments in electrical infrastructure, modernizing our roads, bridges, our water systems, sewer and draining systems, electric grids and transmission lines, and make them more resilient to these superstorms and wildfires and floods that are going to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity.
We’re reminded that this isn’t about politics. Hurricane IDA didn’t care if you were a Democrat or Republican, rural or urban. Its destruction is everywhere. And it’s a matter of life and death, and we’re all in this together.
This is one of the great challenges of our time, but I’m confident we’ll meet it. We’re the United States of America.
And there is simply nothing — you’ve heard me say it before — nothing beyond our capacity when we work together.
So, for all those who are still in harm’s way, all those struggling to deal with the aftermath of these storms and fires, I say: God bless you. Keep the faith. Everyone working day and night to look out for their fellow Americans is what this is about. And we’re going to get this done.
12:26 P.M. EDT