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Hurricane Ida Came Ashore In Louisiana But Now It's Affecting More States

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Tomorrow, President Joe Biden will head to Louisiana to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida. But the storm's remnants are still impacting other parts of the country. At least seven deaths were recorded in New York City, and Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency as this tropical storm moved to the Northeast. Massive flooding affected areas including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell is on the line with us now. Thanks for taking some time with us today.

DEANNE CRISWELL: Good morning, A. Thanks for having me on.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. Now, as we said, the governor of New York declared a state of emergency there. How is FEMA taking action in the areas that were impacted overnight?

CRISWELL: Right now, we have liaison officers that are in all of the impacted states - New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland. And we've been in close communication with the state emergency management directors to identify if they have any needs. They haven't asked yet for any response assistance, that they have enough capabilities, but we're going to quickly begin assessments to help with the immediate recovery needs and then eventually the long-term recovery.

MARTINEZ: What kinds of things would you have ready regardless, things that you have ready for other disasters, that you would have ready for this one?

CRISWELL: So you know, if we needed to provide any immediate assistance right now, we still have search-and-rescue teams that are available, and we have them ready to go if requested. And we have food and commodities if we have any shelters that are set up that we can support that. We know that there's widespread damage, but it's really concentrated in certain areas. And so we'll be able to move resources into those areas as the states identify what their immediate needs will be.

MARTINEZ: Now, Louisiana's by far the most impacted area by Ida. We spoke with Captain Brennan Matherne with Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office yesterday, and he told our co-host, Noel King, that the property damage is worse than Katrina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BRENNAN MATHERNE: I would say there's damage to 100% of structures in Lafourche Parish. And...

NOEL KING: 100%?

MATHERNE: No question.

KING: Wow.

MATHERNE: Every building has some level of damage.

MARTINEZ: What have you seen in Louisiana so far?

CRISWELL: Yeah, I just came back from Louisiana, where I was able to tour some of the damaged areas with the governor. And I was in Lafourche Parish as well, and there is widespread damage to homes and businesses across the area. And there's also significant infrastructure damage, several hundred thousand people without power, and it's still just shy of a million people without power. Water systems have been impacted. This road to recovery for the hardest-hit parishes is going to take some time.

We had prepositioned several resources - swift water rescue teams, generators, federal family partners from the Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, the Army Corps of Engineers. And they have all been moving in to meet the immediate needs that these local parishes are finding that they have during this response phase. And we're going to continue to move in resources to help with their recovery efforts.

MARTINEZ: You mentioned generators for the question of power. Anything else FEMA can do to help with that specific thing?

CRISWELL: The power companies themselves have brought in additional linemen or additional crews to help with that. They really have the responsibility for restoring the power. We bring in generators and the Army Corps of Engineers, and they're going out and doing power assessments at some of the critical facilities that have been identified by the state. And then we can support, if they don't have generators, to be able to bring in generators or bring in additional generators. And especially as they have to run for several days, we do find that sometimes there will be failures. And so that's why we have additional resources to come in and support those critical facilities.

MARTINEZ: Any ETA, though, on how long before power will be restored?

CRISWELL: You know, I'm still hearing that it could be weeks before we have 100% of the power restored. I think you'll start to see and we're starting to see the numbers come down slightly, but not very much. People should be prepared for this to be a long time - you know, several weeks before full power is restored in the areas. We saw just significant infrastructure damage to transmission lines into the homes. And so even when you get the transmission lines fixed, it's still going to take time to bring power into their individual homes.

MARTINEZ: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said that the most urgent need right now there is fuel. And we've seen Louisiana residents lined up for blocks at gas stations just waiting hours to get gas. How is FEMA assisting to get people fuel supplies?

CRISWELL: So fuel is definitely a concern. And one of the big issues with fuel is - it's not so much the supply. There is supply out there. It's a matter of whether or not some of these fuel stations have the power that can deliver the fuel. And so, again, this is where, you know, we can bring in some generator support as needed for critical fuel supplies. We are supporting fuel distribution to first responders. And so those vehicles and our first responders can continue to support the emergent needs that they're finding in their communities, and then through our private sector partnership, working with the fuel distribution companies to make sure that we are able to prioritize and move fuel into the areas, one that can accept it and that can deliver it.

MARTINEZ: So one goes with the other, you're saying, when it comes to fuel. If you don't have the power, you can't get to deliver the fuel.

CRISWELL: Yeah. I mean, we don't want to put fuel into a fuel station that doesn't have the power to then get it into vehicles. And so I'm working with the state to identify where their areas of greatest need are and where they can accept it, and then, you know, working with our fuel companies to make sure that we're getting it distributed to the right place. But again, our focus right now, too, is supporting fuel needs for our first responders. We want to make sure that they can continue to meet the needs of the citizens that have been impacted by this storm.

MARTINEZ: And I'm sure you know that FEMA has been criticized in the past for taking too long to get essential aid and resources to areas devastated by natural disaster. What is going to be different this time?

CRISWELL: There has been a lot that has changed, especially since Hurricane Katrina. We have new authorities that give us the ability to lean in much quicker than we have in the past and bring the federal family in position so they can respond quickly. And that's exactly what you saw here. We moved in millions of liters of water, millions of meals, as well as several resources from our federal family across the different agencies in place, ready to then deploy as needed or employ as needed as the local parishes were identifying with their immediate needs were. They were able to start supporting their requests within the first few hours after the threat of the storm had passed.

MARTINEZ: One more thing quickly. There's been a lot of misinformation about FEMA disaster assistance, so much so that FEMA actually launched a rumor-control page. What additional resources does FEMA have available for residents in the aftermath of Ida?

CRISWELL: So we do have a lot of resources that are available. The president did declare a major disaster declaration for Louisiana, and certain parishes are also eligible for individual assistance. And so with the individual assistance, if you're in one of those parishes, you can register. You can either go to 1-800-621-FEMA or you can go to disasterassistance.gov and register for assistance. And with that...

MARTINEZ: OK. Perfect.

CRISWELL: ...We are going to be able to give you immediate assistance...

MARTINEZ: Perfect. Thank you. That's FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.