Joe Biden

Remarks During a Virtual Briefing on Hurricane Ida Damage and Recovery Efforts

August 30, 2021

The President. Good afternoon, everybody. We're waiting for a few more people to get on, but we're going to get started if that's okay with you all. And thanks for joining me. I'm here—the FEMA Director is on. FEMA Director Criswell, she's on. And I'm here with my Senior Adviser and boy who knows Louisiana very, very well, man—and New Orleans and—Cedric Richmond.

And what I'm going to do is make a brief statement here and then go through and tell you what we're doing, but then hear from all of you, if that's okay. I know you're busy as the devil.

I know you've got a lot to manage in your States, but the fact is that I want to hear from you; we both want to hear from you. And we know Hurricane Ida had the potential to cause massive, massive damage, and that's exactly what we saw. We already know there's been at least one confirmed death, and a number—that number is likely to grow. And I've got—we've got a million people in Louisiana without power.

And, for a time, Ida caused the Mississippi River to literally change its direction, and some folks are still dealing with the storm surge and flash flooding. And there are roads that are impassable due to debris and downed power lines. And we need people to continue to shelter in place if it's safe for them to do so. And for those who have lost their homes, you know, States, working with the American Red Cross, have already opened 50 shelters in affected areas across the Gulf Coast.

We've already begun search-and-rescue efforts, and we get folks who—out there who need assistance. And we're doing our—the best we can. More than 5,000 members of your National Guard have been activated from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas to support search-and-rescue and recovery efforts.

And FEMA has prepositioned literally millions of meals and liters of water. They're already prepositioned, as well as other resources, in the immediate area. And we've deployed more than 200 generators, and we already moved into the region; they've been moved in ahead of time. And the Administrator Criswell and her team at FEMA is working getting more of those into the area.

We're in close contact with local electric providers to see what they need. They're all private providers; we don't control that. But we're doing all we can to minimize the amount of time it's going to take to get power back up for everyone in the region. And we've been working with the electric sector throughout the night and all day today to assess and understand the full extent of the damage.

To accelerate the process, I've asked the Federal Aviation Administration to work today with Louisiana and Mississippi electric companies to authorize the use of surveillance drones to assess Ida's damage to energy infrastructure, while ensuring those flights do not disrupt aerial search-and-rescue operations.

And I've also asked the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately make available any satellite imagery that can assist in assessing the damage in your States and cities and parishes.

Local utilities are going to soon begin restoration work, including prioritizing getting transmission lines into New Orleans and get them back up and running. A lot of them have been taken down. More than 25,000 debris crews and linemen from at least 30 States are rolling in to support you. Some are already prepositioned and close and, hopefully, are already underway.

But we need to be prepared and—that—we're about as prepared as we could be for the early stage of this, and there's a lot more to do.

We also know a lot of people lost their cell phone service if their particular carrier tower is down or damaged. So this morning the Federal Communications Commission has worked with the cellular providers to initiate their cooperative framework agreement. That agreement allows customers on one line—with one provider to go to another provider if that provider is down. So it allows customers to use roaming access [across]* carriers—to any of the carriers that are up and running. And that means you should be able to get a signal no matter who your carrier was or is.

The main thing I want to make clear to all of you is, we're providing any help we—that you're going to need. And so I've got—as I said, I've got my Senior Adviser, Cedric Richmond, here with me. You all know him. He's a New Orleans native, he's a Congressman of Louisiana—was a Congressman from Louisiana's Second District for 10 years. He knows the area. He knows the people, and he—who have been affected by Ida. And he knows how to get things done in government.

While FEMA is our lead for on-the-ground response, if there is something you need—needs my attention, Cedric is your direct line—direct line—into the White House throughout this recovery. And I mean that. Whatever you need, go to Cedric. He'll get to me, and we'll get you what you need, if we can.

The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are resilient and—but it's in moments like these that we can certainly see the power of government to respond to the needs of the people if the government is prepared and if they respond. That's our job, if we work together. The folks get knocked down; we're there to help you get back on your feet.

The most important element, though, is coordinating all the branches of government—State, local, and Federal. And that's what we're trying to make sure that we tried to do even before this hurricane hit. That's why we began working together—we're going to stand with you and the people of the Gulf as long as it takes for you to recover.

And so I'm now going to turn this over to John Bel, Governor Edwards of Louisiana. And, Governor, give us your assessment of what you have, what you're seeing out there. Tell me what you're hearing and what your team on the ground—and anything you need that we haven't gotten to you.

Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. Thank you very much, Mr. President. And you couldn't have picked a better person than Cedric Richmond, and we look forward to working with him as well.

First of all, let me thank you for signing my request for a prelandfall declaration and then, last night, signing the major disaster declaration. That's going to be very helpful.

Hurricane Ida came onshore with everything that was advertised——

The President. Yes.

Gov. Edwards. ——the surge, the rain, the wind.

The good news, first, is, all of our levee systems, particularly our Federal levee systems and hurricane risk reduction systems, performed magnificently. They were not overtopped. None of them were breached. Even our levee systems that were paid for with State and local funding in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish performed extremely well. It would be a different story altogether had any of those levee systems failed.

Having said that, the damage is still catastrophic, but it was primarily wind-driven. But we know that there were some areas that received tremendous rainfall as well. But we're going to be dealing with this damage for quite a while.

And you mentioned the power outage. That is critical for us. And it's really a million homes and businesses that are out. And it's—my best guess is, you're getting closer to 2 million people without electricity right now.

And of course, we're trying to prioritize the restoration so that our hospitals come back up first.

The President. Yes.

Gov. Edwards. Because while they're all on generator power, generators typically, you know, fail after some period of time. So we want to get them back up first. And in the meantime, we already have the Corps of Engineers on the ground identifying additional generators that we can bring to these hospital locations so that should we have a failure before power is restored, we're going to be able to switch them over. And they're working extremely hard on that.

[Gov. Edwards continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

And the last thing I want to say is, the very first rescues occurred at a hospital in Galliano, down in Lafourche Parish, by the U.S. Coast Guard, because they were able to fly before any other assets could. And they were able to move about seven patients from a hospital down there. You probably saw the hospital that had the roof just completely——

The President. Yes.

Gov. Edwards. ——you know, taken off yesterday. Your Coast Guard rescued and relocated those patients first thing this morning, and we are very appreciative of that.

The President. Well, thank you. Well, look, I wanted—we worked real hard with you to get the search-and-rescue teams in place. But they—you say they have been able to respond——

Gov. Edwards. Yes, sir.

The President. ——in a timely way.

Gov. Edwards. Yes, sir. And I'm—I can't tell you they're everywhere we want them, but they started responding first thing this morning. And those 16 teams, that doesn't include the National Guard——

The President. Yes.

Gov. Edwards. ——or the Wildlife and Fisheries officers here.

You know, I've got all 5,000 of my National Guardsmen activated. We're going to end up with about 5,000 more coming in from out of State through an EMAC request. And one of the reasons this is important, Mr. President, is, we've got 2,400 of our soldiers in our 256th Brigade Infantry Combat Team, they're deployed to the Middle East.

The President. Yes.

Gov. Edwards. And so we're going to have EMAC requests where, I think as early as tomorrow, we're going to have additional soldiers coming from National Guards from sister States, and that's going to be very helpful as well.

The President. Well, good. Well, look, if there's anything else you need, you know you just call. I mean, you've got the team at the table there—a lot of them—and so just holler.

All right, now, Cedric, who are we going to next?

White House Director of Public Engagement Cedric L. Richmond. Governor Reeves.

The President. Is—oh, you are. I understand, Gov, you're not on video, but you are on the telephone. So, Gov, fire away.

Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi. Well, thank you, Mr. President. When we spoke on Friday, you assured me that when we asked for the prelandfall declaration, that you would immediately sign it, and you did exactly that, and I want to thank you for doing so. We're in a little bit of a different position right now, obviously, than our friends in Louisiana.

[Gov. Reeves continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

We believe our State and local assets can meet the needs. And so we have encouraged our FEMA counterparts to release those individuals over to Louisiana to help with the search and rescue.

The President. Good.

Gov. Reeves. As well as, I have directed General Boyles, my adjutant general, as we progress over the next 8 to 10 hours—he has already reached out to his counterpart in Louisiana, and we're going to be sending men and women in uniform from Mississippi to help in Louisiana because that's just—that's who we are.

And so we've got, again, some—about 20 hours ahead of us of winds and lots and lots of rain. But all things considered, because the storm slowed up so considerably, we're seeing more rain—more rain, more water, but a lot less wind, which is certainly helpful.

The President. Well, thanks an awful lot, Gov. And again, thanks for your generosity in sending some of those search and rescue teams to Louisiana.

And is Mayor Cantrell on? Mayor Cantrell, are you on? I don't think she was able to get connected.

Director Richmond. I don't think so, Mr. President, but we have Cynthia Lee Sheng——

The President. Oh, okay.

Director Richmond. —who is the Parish President from Jefferson Parish, which includes Grand Isle and other places hard hit.

The President. You were hard hit, weren't you, Madam President?

President Cynthia Lee Sheng of Jefferson Parish, LA. Thank you.

The President. Especially down in Grand Isle.

Parish President Sheng. Yes, we were. Thank you, Mr. President. Congressman, Governor, thank you.

We have not had contact with Grand Isle. Congressman, you know Mayor Camardelle. I talked to him yesterday evening. He thought 40 people were on the island—couldn't get them off—including some firefighters. We have not had contact with them since yesterday.

[Parish President Sheng continued her remarks, concluding as follows.]

But some of the people in here who stayed during the storm and are okay, in the next couple days, they may want to get out, and it might be a best idea for them to get out because it's going to be difficult life for quite some time.

The President. Thank you, Madam President.

Parish President Sheng. Thank you.

The President. Cedric, what about the oil port?

Director Richmond. Well, the Governor or Parish President Sheng could talk about that. The President is inquiring about the oil ports down in Port Fourchon and the effect and where we are there.

Parish President Sheng. I personally do not have eyes on that situation. So, actually, the only—the visual I get is if I see something on the national news. But I don't have word about that.

The President. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:43 p.m. from the South Court Auditorium of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans, LA. Gov. Reeves referred to Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, ARNG, adjutant general, Mississippi National Guard; and Maj. Gen. D. Keith Waddell, ARNG, adjutant general, Louisiana National Guard. President Sheng referred to Mayor David Camardelle of Grand Isle, LA.

* White House correction.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks During a Virtual Briefing on Hurricane Ida Damage and Recovery Efforts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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