Sen. Cassidy: Hurricane Ida shows need for infrastructure investment — including broadband

Rebuilding and recovery from Hurricane Ida is going to be a long-term proposition and could be an expensive undertaking. For those whom the hurricane has displaced, basic necessities like power and water are gone, and fuel is running low. Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy joins John Yang to discuss relief and rebuilding efforts, and how Congress needs to invest in mitigating natural disasters.

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  • John Yang:

    Rebuilding and recovering from Hurricane Ida is going to be a long-term proposition and could be an expensive undertaking.

    Senator Bill Cassidy is Louisiana's senior senator. He joins us from Baton Rouge.

    Senator Cassidy, thanks for being with us.

    I understand you did a flyover a little bit of some of the hard-hit areas of the state. What did you see that may not necessarily translate?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA):

    We flew over first a place called LaPlace, which, if you follow the I-10 out of New Orleans towards Baton Rouge, it's just — for those who have done, it is the first area after you go past Lake Pontchartrain.

    And there was just complete flooding of the whole community. Gas stations I routinely stop at, you don't see the ground. You just see water.

    We continued over to Houma, lots of wind damage. Clearly, as you might guess, the less expensive the housing, the more damage. So, trailer parks, it was just scattered all over the place, but nicer neighborhoods as well either had water up to their doorstep or were completely flooded, as well as wind damage to some structures that were used in Port Fourchon, which are where the boats are that go to the rigs in the Outer Continental Shelf.

    But even going back through New Orleans, there wasn't damage, but there weren't any lights either, to tell you that the issue there was that of no electricity.

    And then, finally, north of Lake Pontchartrain to the Florida Parishes, where there was flooding that was just all through those parishes, not every place, but certainly around Lake Pontchartrain, other areas closer to the rivers that were still rising at that time.

  • John Yang:

    You say no power in some areas and also no running water in some areas.

    What are you being told about when those systems will be back up?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    : As far as I know, Entergy has not yet committed to a date of getting them back up.

    And, of course, there's the issues of sewer, water, but also hospitals. Can the generator continue to work for all the things a hospital needs it for? The New Orleans Airport is shut down because of lack of running water, electricity.

    I will also mention, if you just think of the human dimension, the person who's at home or on home oxygen — I'm a physician — immediately comes to mind. She does not have the electricity. She may have a generator, but the gas station doesn't have electricity to fill up her gasoline to put into her generator to run her O2 tank.

  • John Yang:

    You mentioned that you're a physician.

    Louisiana having a bit of a surge of COVID-19 at the same time, hospitals stressed. As a physician, what worries you about this sort of confluence of events, hospitals under stress, people being put together in shelters? What worries you about that?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    Well, the briefing we received from Red Cross and others is that the shelters would have people separated from one another.

    They will be asked to wear masks. And they're well-ventilated, and not require, but, if people wish, they can get vaccinated. So I think that we learned the lessons of last year, when there was some events like this during COVID, in order to construct an environment to keep people safe.

    That said, I will just say, as I have been saying for quite some time, if someone is vaccinated, the risk of going to the hospital and ICU is far lower.

  • John Yang:

    Earlier today, you tweeted out a message saying that you thought Congress needed to get back and pass a supplemental disaster aid bill.

    How much money do you think we're talking about?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    First, I actually was speaking about the one in Southwest Louisiana from a year ago. So, Hurricane Laura and Delta hit Southwest Louisiana, and we still have not passed that. So frustrating. And we have been working on it for a year, and it's not done yet.

    There will be an assessment that will take weeks, maybe even a month, in order to get completely together that which — that which needs to be to rebuild.

    But what I don't want to happen is a supplemental for this area to kind of linger, as it has for Southwest Louisiana. And we want the folks in Southwest Louisiana to know that they are not being forgotten. Still fighting for them, still trying to raise their case.

  • John Yang:

    Also, when you get back to Washington, you're going to — one of the items of business is going to be reconciling whatever the House does on infrastructure with what the Senate does.

    There's a lot in that bill about flood mitigation that could help in instances like this. Do you think what happened here is going to help build support for that?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    I sure hope so.

    My gosh, everybody is sighing a sigh of relief that New Orleans' levees held. They held because George W. Bush made a commitment to building those levees. And 16 years later, we see the payoff.

    If we invest now, not just in Louisiana, but around our nation, in issues such as coastal restoration, flood mitigation, hardening the grid — there's billions to harden the grid, so they don't topple again, leaving our parishes without electricity — $50 billion nationwide for sewer and water, $65 billion to make sure every American has access to broadband Internet.

    And, John, you may say, what does that have to do with it? Turns out FEMA, governors and local offices send out messages over social media. And now that has become part of our armamentarium to reduce risk, to reduce death, et cetera.

    So, I sure hope so, because just like George W. made that investment 16 years ago, we need to make it now for a hurricane, a tornado, a fire, an ice storm for 10 years from now.

  • John Yang:

    Senator Bill Cassidy, thank you very much.

    We're thinking of all of you down there in Louisiana right now.

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    Thank you very much, John. Thank you.

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