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With Hurricane Dorian devastating the Bahamas and heading toward the U.S., how are American agencies and officials getting ready for the threat? Acting Homeland Security Sec. Kevin McAleenan joins Amna Nawaz to discuss preparation efforts, including pre-deployment of supplies and personnel, why residents need to heed local warnings about the “very dangerous storm” and funding for FEMA.
We return now to our top story, as Hurricane Dorian threatens the Southeastern U.S. coast.
Amna Nawaz sits down with an official whose department is charged with watching the storm closely and preparing for its aftermath.
And the acting secretary of homeland security, Kevin McAleenan, joins me now.
Mr. Secretary, welcome to the "NewsHour."
Thanks. Good to be with you, Amna.
So, we just heard about the latest. We know about the path of Hurricane Dorian.
You have been receiving regular updates, obviously.
What is important for people to know right now about what we could see in the coming hours and days?
I just came over from FEMA headquarters, where the National Response Coordination Center is fully active, with over 200 professionals across the interagency monitoring every aspect of this situation with this very powerful storm.
And I think the number one thing to remember here is, even if we don't expect it to make landfall now in Florida, this is still a very dangerous storm. It's a triple threat. We have got the wind field actually expanding, even though the wind speed has come down a little bit.
We have the storm surge is going to be significant all along the coastline. And it's also going to be a prolonged rain event. So we still need people to heed the warnings of emergency management professionals at the state and local level, to evacuate if they're in a mandatory evacuation area, and to prepare for potentially a prolonged impact from the storm.
You're saying that the fact that it's been downgraded to a Category 2, that does not mean it's going to be any less dangerous for people in the potential path?
We have got 27 counties that are under mandatory evacuation orders in the four states that are expected to be most affected by the storm. That's almost six million people that are — that are in the path. And they need to be listening to emergency managers, watching the storm closely, having their preparation, their food, water, medicine, pet food, everything on hand to weather a potential prolonged event.
And, again, this storm still could make landfall further up the coast. It's a Category 2, 110-mile-an-hour winds.
So it could change track at some point as well?
Of course. If it comes off track a little bit to the west, it could be a different experience.
People have been watching these pictures coming in from the Bahamas. They're calling it a crisis of epic proportions there.
Can you expect similar devastation or destruction here?
I don't think so.
I mean, as Ken Graham from the National Hurricane Center just explained, that storm sat over two of the northern islands of the Bahamas at 180 mile-an-hour winds for 24 to 36 hours with very little movement. Just absolutely devastating, those pictures.
I got off the phone earlier today with the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which actually oversees the foreign disaster assistance, to make sure that they have everything they need from the Department of Homeland Security and if we can support in any way.
And you already see Coast Guard. They're there making rescues. They have already life-flighted a number of people to safety in the first few hours as soon as they could get in with the wind speed.
And we're going to continue to try to support our neighbors in the Bahamas.
I want to ask about your level of preparedness now at FEMA, because, after the devastation in Puerto Rico, and after Hurricane Maria in 2017, FEMA came under fire, right, basically for a lack of response there.
And the acting administrator later said, we were shorthanded.
You have said now you have about 3,000 people deployed in advance of Hurricane Dorian's arrival.
Is that enough?
Actually, it's even more, when you look at the entire interagency effort.
I spent the last four days at FEMA headquarters getting the briefings, hearing from the state and local emergency managers on their level of resourcing.
And just to give you a couple snapshots of the level of preparedness and response, in Florida alone, there are some 17,000 professionals from the power and electric — energy industry ready to get electricity back on after the storm, coming from 36 states under mutual aid agreements.
There's 5,000 National Guard troops that have already been called up and are on duty in the four affected states. And then, of course, there's a huge state and local capacity that's fully engaged.
So the FEMA coordination of support and the pre-deployment of supplies, that 3,000 people that are engaged, that's just part of the overall response. The whole federal interagency is supporting the state and locals. And the state and locals have a very robust plan in place.
I want to be clear about this, too. You have taken some questions about this.
There was an announcement that you would be moving funds. You have not moved any yet.
But it was about $270 million that were being moved from other agencies to immigration detention support.
Some of those funds would come from FEMA. You have said they will have no effect on the agency's response.
Are you still confident in that?
I'm very confident in that.
We're not going to allow it to have an effect. Obviously, life and safety in this crisis with Hurricane Dorian is our top priority. Again, the disaster recovery fund for FEMA has over $25 billion in it. So that's the main source of funding in a major disaster.
And we have plenty of funds in that fund.
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