Remarks by President Biden in a Briefing on the Impact of Hurricane Ida
St. John Parish’s Emergency Operations Center
1:50 P.M. CDT
MR. RICHMOND: Let me — let me thank everybody for coming here. I’m sure he doesn’t need any introduction, but I just want to say it’s good to be back, but, more importantly, the President wanted to get here as soon as, one, it wasn’t a distraction and draining resources. So we’re glad that the governor assured us of that and invited us down.
But the President has been chomping at the bit to really make sure that recovery is going well and to make sure that he can see hands on.
But you don’t need to hear from me. With that, I’ll turn it over to the President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, folks, you know, this storm has been incredible, not only here but all the way up the East Coast. I’ve been spending time with — in talking with the governor a lot, but, in the meantime, also with governors of my state of Delaware and Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, where there are more deaths than you have here. I hope that doesn’t change in terms of the number of lost lives.
And I have a daughter who went to Tulane. And she runs a Boys and Girls Club operation, and she called me and said, “Dad, when are you going — why are spending a time talking to the governor of New York? Why are you not in Louisiana?” (Laughter.) So, you all got to write a note for me that I’m down, all right?
Look, you know, Cedric and — and the FEMA Administrator, we came because want to hear directly from you all what is — what specific problems you’re dealing with.
We’ve been working with you on key areas to deliver more than 6.7 million meals and 6.1 million liters of water. But sometimes what we deliver and what is needed aren’t all the same thing. And we’re frustrated, I know — you got to be frustrated about the restoration of power. And I understand two gentlemen who run those two operations are working like hell. I think you got — you got about 25,000 linemen from around the country here. A couple have already given their life trying to get things going.
And — and so we’re working 24/7 with the energy companies — I think they had to acknowledge that — to get the system up and moving. And we also deployed even more federal resources, including hundreds of generators to restore power and — faster than we were able to do in Katrina.
You know, it’s dangerous work, as I said, and I want to thank those 25,000 linemen from 32 different states. I’ve always been — responded in big time.
We’re also working with the phone companies so you can — you know, I think the worst thing in the world, having been there in a different circumstance, wanting to — you know, knowing things are terrible outside, when you’re standing and wondering how your son, daughter, mother, father, uncle, aunt, and how they’re doing and not being able to get connected to them.
And so we’re moving as — as fast as we can to be able to provide access, regardless who your provider was. If your provider’s system went down, you’ll be able to use any provider that’s on there; you just got to get online. So I hope that’s picking up around the state as well. I’d like to hear more about that.
But — and we’re moving as fast as we can to keep gas flowing in the pumps. I’ve authorized going into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And — but I know still, you know, there’s work to do in this area. And we’ve instructed my team to have all hands on deck to make sure that that happens — that we have the, you know — and they’re going to make this up — instead of us going to Exxon, kind of get back out there. And we’re going to be able to work that through.
And, to date, we’ve also provided $100 million in direct assistance directly to folks in Louisiana, with that 500 bucks going into their bank accounts so that they can deal immediately with emergencies.
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve heard anything — feedback from your constituents — about that at all. Because sometimes it’s just that — what you need that moment, and it can make a difference.
And we also know there’s a heck of a lot more work to do and — and that’s why we’re here today. And my message today is — I think what we’re all seeing, and I’m getting the same response from my Republican friends — Republican friends here that are in the Congress: There’s nothing political about this. It’s just simply about saving lives and getting people back up and running.
And we’re in this together, and so we’re not going to leave any community behind — rural, city, coastal, inland. And I promise we’re going to have your backs until this gets done.
And so, I’m mainly here to listen, to see what’s on your mind. Be able — be able to ask a few questions. And if they’re really hard questions I can’t answer, I’ll turn to Cedric or the Director. (Laughter.) As you probably know about me, I’ll have an opinion. (Laughter.)
At any rate, so thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ll turn it back to you, Cedric, and let’s see what we can do here.
MR. RICHMOND: Well, thank you, Mr. President. We’ll turn it over to the governor, who’s leading the statewide recovery.
GOVERNOR EDWARDS: Thank you, Cedric, and welcome back home.
Mr. President, we appreciate you being in Louisiana today, and thank you for accepting the invitation.
And I want you to know that, on Tuesday of this week, Administrator Criswell and I were in this very room because she had already come down. And it makes a difference to be on the ground, to meet with people, and to actually see the damage. So we appreciate you being here.
And — and I appreciate the pre-landfall declaration you signed very quickly when I requested it. And then when I requested the major disaster declaration, you signed that as well.
And doing things timely is really important. So we were able to assemble the largest urban search and rescue team in advance of landfall in the history of our country, and it was tremendously helpful. You know, we had 1,300 people, including our own — but from, you know, I think was 19 different states that came in to be able to do that.
And it’s been a tremendously devastating storm. We’re going to be a long time recovering. The initial part is about getting people’s lives right-side up, saving lives, and that sort of thing. And then the recovery is going to be — you know, it’s going to go on for quite some time. And so, we know that you’re — you’re here with us today, but you’re going to be with us for the long haul as well.
I did want to point out that — that the immediate impacts of the storm that were — we were up to nine confirmed deaths related to the storm (inaudible). And so very tragic anytime you lose life, but ult- — you know, largely, that was a big success story.
Secondly, the investments the federal government made in the levee system around New Orleans were just so helpful. There wasn’t a levee anywhere in Louisiana, state or federal, that failed.
We had a few of the minor levees that overtopped — and if your home got water because of that, it’s not minor; it’s serious — but we’re talking about very low numbers compared to what would have happened.
So investing in infrastructure, in resiliency, and making sure that we do things better and smarter, it does pay off, because this would be a much more expensive storm to recover from had we not already made those investments.
So we welcome you. We thank you for being here.
THE PRESIDENT: Can I say one thing, please? (Laughter.)
No, hell, you know, once you represent a district, you never stop representing it. You know what I mean?
MR. RICHMOND: That’s true.
THE PRESIDENT: But, you know, one of the things I hope you keep an eye on is — I mean, everybody to keep an eye on — is that, you know, I got, kind of — not beat up, but I got criticized from my talking — when I was running for office — we got to Build Back Better.
Things have changed and so drastically in terms of the environment. We’ve already crossed certain thresholds. We can’t build back a road, a highway, and a bridge or anything to what it was before.
I mean, you’ve got to build back to what it is now — what’s needed now.
And I know the head of the energy companies understand this really well. We have a significant piece of legislation, both the infrastructure bill and a budget thing — a reconciliation bill that calls for significant investment in being able to deal with what is about to come.
In other words, for example, when you guys are putting back up those high-tension wires again — and that’s working — you’re not going to put up the same exact system. You got to — you’re going to have to build it better, and its resiliency.
And so, I just want you all focusing on — and as you take a look — and I’m going to presume to send you copies of this stuff — take a look and see if what we’re — what we’re suggesting makes enough sense to you. Not whether it’s enough money or not, or too much, but does it make sense. Does it make sense.
For example, coming in and seeing all the polls down. Well, you know, I mean, we’re going to build back better. I mean, you know, we know if it’s underground, it costs a hell of a lot more money, but guess what? It saves a hell of a lot more money long term.
And we know that the kind of stuff that goes across even — you saw the high-tension stuff going down across the Mississippi, like it did once in the Delaware River, which is a hell of a lot wider than the Mississippi River. It’s — you know.
And — and so we have to — it seems to me we can save a whole lot of money and a whole lot of pain — pain for our constituents — if when we build back, we build it back in — in a better way.
And it will create — and I realize I’m selling as I’m talking too, but it’ll create really significant good-paying jobs. Not 15-dollar-an-hour jobs, but jobs of prevailing wage. And it generates economic growth.
But I just — I just hope we don’t go about deciding, just like — and you and I talked a lot about it — the levee system, and the one the federal government — that’s the only one I’m fully familiar with.
I mean, that was a lot of money. But think how much money it saved and how many lives it saved. So, I hope you’ll think about that.
So when you hear the ra- — the word “resiliency” — and I know the energy guys know this — it’s about making a system, from our transmission of energy straight through to the highways we’re building and the bridges, resilient to the changes that we’re taking — that we’re seeing happen.
I’m sorry, I wanted to repeat that again. But I — I just hope you take a look at it and tell me if we need more or less, too.
MR. RICHMOND: Well, thank you, Mr. President. I think, with that, it’s a great way to segue to our FEMA Administrator, Deanne Criswell.
MS. CRISWELL: Thank you, Cedric. Mr. President, Governor, so far, you know, in addition to some of the numbers that you mention, we have about 1,200 responders from the federal family on the ground, and that doesn’t include those that are back at our National Response Coordination Center, as well as our Regional Response Coordination Center, representing 22 different federal government agencies.
We have, right now, 197 ambulances that have been actively engaged in trying to help with managing your support for the healthcare system. We also have 12 mobile communication units. Comms have been down, and so we’ve sent them into the parishes to help increase some of the communications until the cell towers could come back up.
I’d also like to mention that we did just turn on the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program. The governor asked for that, I think yesterday or maybe the day before, which means now individuals that are displaced can stay in a hotel for a short term while we’re looking at what their long-term lodging situation is.
And so, if they haven’t registered, if the people in your communities have not registered yet, they should register for assistance. Those that have registered, we will reach out to them automatically.
And we’ve also turned on the Blue Roof program. We saw some of the blue roofs as we flew in today. And so, those who have damages to their roofs, they can go to BlueRoof.us.
THE PRESIDENT: Let’s make it clear: The Governor is afraid of that guy. That’s why he insisted — (laughter).
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: So, we’ll have that available to help with some of those temporary roofing repairs.
And then the last thing I’ll just quickly mention is we know that responder lodging is a concern. I’ve heard that from you, Governor, as well as some of your staff.
We are moving responder lodging into the areas. We have 200 beds that are already set up here in New Orleans — or, in New Orleans at the airport. We have 300 more en route to Morgan City. And we have 300 en route to Belle Chasse. And then we’re also looking at bringing in a cruise ship to help support responders.
And this isn’t just for our federal responders, this will be for your first responders as well. And so, we’re actively pursuing additional lodging to help support those that really need to be able to stay close and support your communities.
And this is just the beginning. We’re going to be here until — until your recovery is over.
THE PRESIDENT: Not going away.
MR. RICHMOND: Mr. President, before I recognize our host — Parish host, as we looked at those blue roofs, and I think this is important, especially for the country to know, that as our federal program gets up and running, we’ve provided blue roofs, but a lot of those roofs are up because the people of Louisiana decided to get on their roof, put up a tarp, mitigate their damage, and start that recovery process immediately.
So, the fact that you were able to get those tarps out to parishes so people could pick them up and start their recovery was important. And looking at the vast number, it was just incredible and gives me a sense of Louisiana pride to just show that when we get knocked down, we get right back up.
And with that, I’ll recognize —
THE PRESIDENT: Can I make one other point? One of the things that, again, about resilience, where — you’re going to get the funding to build back those roofs, but not the same roof — a roof that is more resistant to higher winds, more resistance to hurricanes.
So, it’s not just building back to what the roof was before, to build it back better. That’s kind of what I mean — that’s a classic example of what I’m talking about — resilience — of changing the nature of it.
MR. RICHMOND: So, Mr. President, with that, I’ll recognize the Parish President for St. John Parish, Jaclyn Hotard.
MS. HOTARD: Thank you, Cedric. Mr. President, Governor, FEMA, and all of our partners, thank you for all of the hard work that was done in preparation for Hurricane Ida. And thank you for the response so far on the ground and for continuing to ramp up those efforts.
Mr. President, from your track record, I know you will be a great partner in our recovery. Thank you for your support and your continued support for the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee project. And thank you for calling out the insurance companies for distinguishing between mandatory and voluntary evacuations.
Mr. President, our immediate needs are power, water, communications, and financial assistance for those who can’t return home and are forced to stay somewhere else during the recovery. And thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MR. RICHMOND: You know, part of some of the dilemmas when we do meetings like this is who we’re going to recognize and who we’re going to recognize next, and Senate — now-Congressman Carter represents the second congressional district, which we’re in and would be a logical choice, but actually Congressman Graves has more seniority on him. (Laughter.)
(The press is escorted out of the room.)
2:05 P.M. CDT