TOPICS > Politics

Recovery Efforts

September 18, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And now to the man in charge of the FEMA effort, the agency’s director, Joe Allbaugh. He joins us from New York. Mr. Allbaugh, welcome.

JOE ALLBAUGH: Good evening, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: How would you summarize where matters stand. The rescue and recovery effort — where does it stand tonight as we speak one week later?

JOE ALLBAUGH: Well, we’re just barely scratching the surface to tell the truth here, one week later, as you say. We have a long way to go.

We have in excess of 1.2 million tons of debris that’s estimated – 1.2 million tons to be removed. And that’s going to take quite some time. I just returned from the site this afternoon — a few minutes ago, as a matter of fact.

Thousands of workers headed up by the New York City’s finest from the police department and the fire department, along with many people from all across the country – the USAR teams — working as diligently, as respectfully as they possibly can, noticing possible areas, possible voids where individuals may be still available, but it’s very, very dangerous work and time is working against us.

JIM LEHRER: How long… Is it possible to estimate how long this is going to take before you can go through the whole site and ascertain what is there and what isn’t there?

JOE ALLBAUGH: I think it’s going to be months before we can get through everything. I do think the teams are working as quickly as they can to go in and do their quick inspections looking for those voids, hoping, praying, that there are individuals still alive. And I believe that possibility exists. However, I think Mayor Giuliani is absolutely right: Time is slipping away from us and the longer we go without finding anyone, the less likely that we will in the end find anyone alive.

JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter, the teams go first to a particular area to see if they can find signs of life, and then that area is released and then the debris is removed. Is that how it’s working?

JOE ALLBAUGH: That is correct. You may have seen some tape that we released today that was shot over the weekend. I’m sure many people were concerned about seeing the pay loaders lift up debris, but that debris has already been cleared and made sure that no important items were in that debris. It’s the quickest and easiest way for us to move large deposits of debris to facilitate the inspection of the rest of the site.

JIM LEHRER: What kind of assistance is being made available to the victims, those who survived, and the families of victims who are either missing or who did not survive for sure?

JOE ALLBAUGH: Well there’s a couple of things that I can talk about. Individuals who are displaced, for example, from their homes in Battery Park, they need to call and register with the FEMA hot line. Let me give that to you, Jim. And I want to be specific about this. 1-800-462-9029.

JIM LEHRER: Say it again.

JOE ALLBAUGH: 1-800-462-9029, a free call. That starts the process for temporary housing, unemployment assistance, any medical assistance those individuals may need.

Families that are related to victims — they should probably register with the Department of Justice. And I don’t want to confuse people, but there are two important 800 numbers: ours with FEMA and the Department of Justice Office of Victims for Crime Family Assistance. That’s 1-800-331-0075.

Now it’s important… And we will commingle those databases, share information; so all the families are part of a massive database to make sure they get the assistance that they need. But those folks do not need to be afraid of anything. They need to call. That starts the process for all the assistance that will come their way.

JIM LEHRER: Has there been evidence that people are reluctant, families of the victims are reluctant to come forward?

JOE ALLBAUGH: I think there are, Jim. Quite frankly, you know, everyone is hoping for all the best that they possibly can. Once they make a phone call it’s almost as if they’re acknowledging the harshest possibility. And I understand that reluctance.

But at the same time, Jim, there is counseling that is needed by individuals, and we need to identify who those folks are, that we can get that counseling to in a very rapid order.


JIM LEHRER: Much has been said and written about the leadership of Mayor Giuliani during all of this.

JOE ALLBAUGH: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: What has been your experience with him these last several days, this last week?

JOE ALLBAUGH: It’s been incredible. I’ve been here since last Wednesday night at 5:00; I stepped out for a day-and-a-half to scoot back down to the Pentagon to make sure we were doing our work there. And we are.

And then I came back up yesterday morning. And I can’t imagine New York City going through something like this without Rudy Giuliani at the helm. And I can’t imagine the city without his leadership.

He, along with Police Commissioner Carrick and Fire Commissioner Tommy Vannessen have just provided remarkable leadership. Remember, Jim, you know the leadership of the fire department was essentially decimated as a result of this incident so they have rebounded in a remarkable fashion.

The whole city has rebounded. I noticed an attitude of lifting of the spirit when I returned yesterday morning. That’s what’s going to get us through all this is this amazing American spirit. You see it alive and well in northern Virginia and right here in New York City.

JIM LEHRER: The president said today that this has brought out the best of America. Is there a particular example of this that you would cite, a particular incident that you either witnessed or were told about that stands out?

JOE ALLBAUGH: One thing that I know about, apparently there was a lady who stopped to buy and picked up five or six kids, young kids from a day care. And she’s basically becoming their foster mother because we don’t know who those kids belong to.

I mean that’s the kind of American spirit, not asking questions, just acting, and doing – and you don’t see many places around the world. It’s absolutely incredible. The best thing, Jim, people can do is donate cash right now.

The city is overwhelmed with individuals who want to come and help. Of course, we all want to come and help. It’s getting very technical down at the site. We need to leave that to the experts.

So please donate cash. There’s one fireman who lost his life the other day. He has ten children still at home. We have to take care of those kids for their future and their grandkids.


JIM LEHRER: Is that the main need now is money?

JOE ALLBAUGH: I think it’s money. I do think it’s money, Jim. Of course, it’s always good to donate blood because we need to have a ready supply nationwide. I think we’re doing well there.

Going down to your local fire department or police department and saying thank you, acknowledging what those men and women do on a daily basis, putting their lives on the line is very, very important.

It’s time to recognize that we can’t continue particularly in the fire service to cut their budgets and expect them to do what they need to do: Protecting our infrastructure of this country and lives. And we need to give them the money that they need to have the proper equipment and tools to do their job and also give them the proper recognition.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Allbaugh, good luck to you and thank you very much.

JOE ALLBAUGH: Thank you, Jim.