How FEMA is tackling the ‘extremely challenging’ rescues, recovery after Hurricane Ida

To explore the federal government's response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida, Judy Woodruff is joined by David Bibo, acting associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He is just back from Louisiana, where he saw areas hit hardest by the storm and surveyed the damage.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we explore Washington's response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida with David Bibo of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    He is the acting associate administrator for response and recovery, and he is just back from Louisiana, where he saw areas hit hardest by the storm.

    He joins us now from the FEMA headquarters.

    Mr. Bibo, how would you say this aftermath compares with what we have seen after other hurricanes?

  • David Bibo, Federal Emergency Management Agency:

    Well, Judy, no question the devastation is heartbreaking.

    I joined the FEMA administrator yesterday with the governor, saw the degenerate in Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. John the Baptist, and Jefferson parishes. Some of the reporting from your correspondent there was in those same places. And they're going to need a lot of help. And recovery is going to take a lot of time.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sorry.

    So, what is FEMA's principal role at this point? We see there is enormous effort at the local level. But what is it that the federal government can do?

  • David Bibo:

    Right.

    So, we have been involved since several days before landfall, pre-positioning meals, water, tarps, blankets, cots, specialized teams. We were able to participate and support the search-and-rescue mission that has still been under way today, and some of the National Guard distribution, points of distribution that you saw there in your reporting.

    We have established a flow of commodities to make sure that that can continued in the days ahead. Also, importantly, with the persistent power outages, we provided hundreds of generators, as well as folks from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help install those at critical facilities, like water treatment plants, sewage plants, as well as hospitals and other critical facilities.

    And that's the important work that is under way right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what's your understanding of how long it's going to take to get the power back? I mean, we have seen estimates of going into weeks and a month.

  • David Bibo:

    And we know that, with 150-mile-an-hour winds and the extent of the damage, that it could be a while.

    Entergy, the primary power provider, has more than 20,000 personnel that they are bringing into the state to expedite the return of power. Importantly, the president the other day approved a major disaster declaration, which authorizes assistance for individuals and communities.

    So people who have been affected by Ida can go on FEMA's Web site or DisasterAssistance.gov, download the FEMA app, or call 1-800-621-FEMA to take advantage of that assistance. We have already approved more than $25 million in assistance for affected Louisianians in the past day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned the very basic needs that people have. We heard that from our own reporter, food, water, power shelter.

    Is FEMA and are other agencies going to be able to get people the help that they need?

  • David Bibo:

    Well, providing that support in such a degraded environment is extremely challenging. And that's why we're seeing the parish presidents, the mayors encourage their residents, if they did evacuate, to wait to return.

    And it's really critical that Louisianians who left town in advance in response to those mandatory evacuation orders, which probably saved lives, heed those continued directions from local and state officials about when to return, because we don't want folks returning to a place where essential services have yet to be restored.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What — if people are watching this and they want to help, what can people in the — who don't live in the area do to be of help?

  • David Bibo:

    There are two things I would suggest.

    First, you can visit NVOAD.org and find a charity that is active in disasters and donate to provide support. It's always better to donate money than it is to donate supplies in kind. And the other thing it's really important to note is that the remnants of Ida are not done with us. We have flash flood warnings, we have tornado warnings across the Northeast tonight, into tomorrow.

    So it's critical that folks pay very close attention in the Northeast, because there is still a very life-threatening weather situation unfolding from the remnants of Ida right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we have seen that reporting of flooding in Pennsylvania and Maryland and other states.

    But just finally, back to Louisiana, how concerned are you that we could be headed for a real humanitarian crisis, with so many people now out of power and, again, out of water and out of food, gasoline?

  • David Bibo:

    Being out of power presents challenges, no question.

    Our focus in support of the state of Louisiana is to get those generators attached to those critical facilities, so that we can have as many essential, absolutely essential services available as possible.

    The city of New Orleans opened cooling centers today, as well as points of distribution that are unfolding across the affected parishes. And folks can find information about those in their neighborhoods. There are folks going around to make sure that the message is getting out about the availability of those services.

    And we're going to keep the flow going of those meals, the water, and the essential support items in the days ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Bibo is the acting associate administrator of FEMA.

    Thank you very much. And we, of course, wish you and all your colleagues the best with all this important work.

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