2:00 P.M. EDT
ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: So, sir, again — Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Secretary Wolf, welcome to FEMA and welcome to the initial brief for Hurricane Laura. And, sir, I’ll defer to you if you have any opening comments, and then we’ll move to the Secretary to get kicked off.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I just wanted to say that all Americans are thinking of the great people of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippiti [sic] — Mississippi, and all of those incredible states that are affected. It’s covered a big range of territory — probably more than almost anyone that we can think of. It covered a lot, and it went very deep into the country and is going deep into the country. It continues.
When Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, it was the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana coast in 150 years. Think of that. It was a category four and very close to a category five. For a while, it was a category five. But with a maximum sustained wind of 150 miles an hour — and I saw last night it was up to 185 miles per hour, and I had never seen that before. While initial reports of the coastal storm surge were not as bad as predicted, we’re still learning a lot about the storm, and we’ll find out. We’ll be reporting to you over the last — over the next couple of days.
I’ve signed emergency declarations for Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. FEMA is on the ground. They’ve been assisting in the search-and-rescue efforts, delivering life-saving supplies, helping restore power to over 600,000 — is that a correct statement? — 600,000 households and businesses that lost power in Texas and Louisiana, in particular.
I’ve spoken to all the governors, and we’ve worked everything out for the federal government to be very, very efficient and be very aggressive in getting everything back and going, and going as it should.
So I just want to thank Pete and all of the people at FEMA. I want to thank Chad Wolf. I want to congratulate him on his nomination. Fantastic. I hope that goes very quickly. It should go very quickly. You’ve done a fantastic job.
And with that, maybe I’ll have Chad say a few words. And then, Pete, you can say something. And we’ll take some questions. Please.
ACTING SECRETARY WOLF: Well, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, again, thank you for being here at FEMA’s National Response and Coordination Center. The situation on the ground, as we’ve heard, is both fluid and challenging, but again, your entire administration has been preparing for this storm, and we are responding.
As you indicated, Mr. President, it’s one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit this part of the country, but the experience, skill, and expertise of the entire DHS response and relief efforts have been mobilized, are in the field today responding.
I think you’ve heard Administrator Gaynor — I know the Vice President — time and time again: The best response to a disaster is one that is locally executed, state managed, and federally supported. And, thankfully, we have very strong partners, both with Governor Abbott and Governor Edwards, in this fight to respond.
Mr. President, you acted quickly to authorize emergency disaster declarations for Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, which has allowed the federal government to prepare and now respond to the hurricane. So thank you for that as well.
A successful response involves an all-of-government approach, and so FEMA is leading that approach, and your Coast Guard pre-positioned assets, pre-positioned its people, and are responding today. They’re up in the air; they’re conducting search-and-rescue assessments and other types of assessments.
We’ve also deployed Customs and Border Protection air assets as well, along with DOD, Army Corps of Engineers — again, a whole-of-government response.
I know Administrator Gaynor will be down in the area starting tomorrow, and I will likely be down there this weekend as well. So, again, Americans are resilient people, and DHS is prepared to help our fellow Americans in the path of the hurricane to recover and to respond.
So thank you again for being here today and showing your support to the men and women of FEMA.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Great job.
ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Sir, we’re going to go to Dr. Neil Jacobs; he’s the Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, from NOAA.
DR. JACOBS: Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, thank you for being here today, and a big thanks to FEMA and DHS for all their support in collaboration with us. I really wanted to thank the folks at the Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center for the fantastic and tremendous work they’ve done in predicting this and also their collaboration with the state and local emergency managers.
I also wanted to mention the Hurricane Hunter flights flying into the storms, collecting data. At any given time, we had three different planes rotating and also a lot of help with the Air Force; they also are sending planes into the storm to collect data.
The models and the observations have been hugely beneficial this season, very much thanks to the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act that you signed into law in 2017.
We did have to evacuate one forecast office. They’ve relocated the forecasting services to Brownsville, Texas. And we’ve pre-deployed emergency response aircraft to do aerial surveys and high-resolution photos, as well as the Coast Survey; the navigation response teams are pre-deployed to Galveston and Stennis.
At this point, I’d like to turn it over to the Hurricane Center director, Ken Graham, for his update on the storm.
THE PRESIDENT: Could I ask you: What’s the level of danger for — you say three planes flying into the storm. What’s the level of danger for the planes, the pilots, flying into a storm of this magnitude, where you had up to 185, and even beyond, winds? What — what is that level?
DR. JACOBS: So we have — we have two P3s, which fly at lower altitude into the actual storm, and then we have a Gulfstream that flies high altitude above the storm.
I’ve actually done one of those flights myself; it’s quite bumpy. But, actually, the stronger the storm, so I’m told by the pilots, it’s less bumpy than the weaker storms because the convection is more organized, so they’re flying into a stiff wind, but it’s not quite as bumpy. But, believe me, it’s a lot bumpier than your average commercial flight. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It’s great. Thank them for me, too.
DR. JACOBS: Yes, sir.
ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: Ken Graham, I think it’s on you.
MR. GRAHAM: Okay, got it. Thank you very much. And, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, thank you for this opportunity to brief you today. I did want to say we appreciate the relationship we have with FEMA. We actually have FEMA, the Hurricane Liaison Team, embedded with us here at the Hurricane Center, so it’s just a great partnership that we work these big events.
So I did want to start off with the latest information on Hurricane Laura. It just became a tropical storm, 70 miles an hour, on the latest update. It’s still moving north at 15 miles an hour.
So we look at this satellite here. The NOAA satellite is one of the tools that we use to really keep an eye on these systems. Like, this landfall, as you said, Mr. President, was at 1:00 a.m. at 150 miles an hour near Cameron, Louisiana.
And it’s interesting, if you look back at the three-day forecast: The point that we made landfall was very close to the three-day forecast on the track. So a very good forecast track. And we continue to move northward through Louisiana, even seeing some impacts in Arkansas.
And Hurricane Laura brought that eyewall of 150-mile-an-hour winds. But not only that — the heavy rainfall, and also the southerly flow that comes out of the Gulf of Mexico, piles up that water. So we did see the storm surge in these areas, and also tornadoes in these dangerous rain bands that circle around the storm. So we have tornadoes, we have the heavy rain, and we have all those impacts associated with this — this hurricane.
So what’s next? This is our latest forecast that we have. You still have those tropical storm force winds well away from the center. So there’s quite a few people that still feel the impacts from that rain and also from those winds. A tropical storm still getting into Arkansas. So if you combine the winds and that rain, those folks are going to still see some of those impacts.
So that’s the latest information. As we continue to move up — even by Friday, we’ll be getting into portions of Kentucky and West Virginia and Virginia throughout the weekend. So we’ll be keeping a very close eye on this.
But I wanted to take the time to echo what Dr. Jacobs said. They’re heroes, Mr. President. They — we try to get everybody away from the coastline, to get away from the dangers of these hurricanes. And the women and the men of the Hurricane Hunters both at NOAA and also the Air Force, they go straight for the danger and they fly these systems. That data gets into the models; it really helps us here at the Hurricane Center with our watches and warnings and the forecast. We just couldn’t do it without them.
So, anyway, appreciate the support. I wanted to give you the latest information on Hurricane Laura, now Tropical Storm Laura.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Great job. Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: Thanks, Ken. Sir, we’re going to go to some brief slides. And the first slide is really to highlight our federal partners and our private and non-profit partners. So I’ll just give it a second to catch up here.
But this is not just FEMA doing this; this is our great partners, like DOD, National Guard, EPA, SBA — you name it. There are people in this building, or virtual because of COVID, that are supporting these efforts. And again, like the Secretary mentioned, a whole-of-government response when it comes to this hurricane and any other natural disaster that we may see in the future.
And next slide. Slide four, please.
So just a taste of some of the resources that we have on the ground, in response for this hurricane. So from FEMA staff that are here in this building, that are embedded with governors and their emergency operation centers in multiple states; Army Corps of Engineers with their power and roof teams that are on the ground, doing assessments; urban search-and-rescue teams. There’s an urban search-and-rescue team, sir, from Indianapolis. Indiana Task Force One is out there today doing assessments.
Communications teams: We have mobile emergency response units out there that give extra capacity to locals that may have lost their communications.
Our other great partner is utility crews from all across the country. Ten thousand crewmembers out there right now, and doing the restoration where they can, where it’s safe. But again, can’t do it without them.
Red Cross doing sheltering. Salvation Army doing feeding. DOD and National Guard providing helicopters and high-water vehicles. And I could go on and on about the team that is assembled to respond to and recover from this disaster and, again, any other disaster that we may face.
Sir, we have a couple of pictures that we’d like to share with you from the field, and my Assistant Administrator for Response and Recovery, Dave Bibo, will help us kind of go through this.
But we want to give you a taste of — we’ve been on the ground since daylight, about six hours so far, doing assessments. It’ll probably take the rest of the day and maybe even tomorrow to kind of see the size and scope and impact of Laura.
But we just wanted to share some pictures. And, Dave, if you could take us through some of these shots.
MR. BIBO: Yes, sir. Sir, one of the ways that we gather information before our people are out on the ground is we do social listening and identify photographs or videos from social media to get the task forces — for instance, like Indiana Task Force One and others — that are deployed ideas about where to go to check on — check on people.
And so you’ll see, as we go through a few of these photographs, sir, that some of them are from social media, some of them are from our personnel on the ground, and the one that you saw just a moment ago — if we can go back — control room. The red and white there is a — is a communication tower, so pretty significant damage there on the left. And then Lake Charles, on the right, which is in Calcasieu Parish, which is one of the areas of significant impact.
Next slide. Some trees down across roadways, and you can see the power — power lines down, which is going to be a major focus of effort for us for the foreseeable future.
Next slide. Roadways overtopped with water, which — dewatering them and then making sure that they’re safe for passage will also be a focus for us and one of the ways that FEMA provides assistance to states after disasters.
Next slide. And, here, you actually see we had a team that was forward-deployed overnight. They rode out the storm in Lake Charles, which is in Calcasieu Parish. Our FEMA Regional Administrator, MaryAnn Tierney, from FEMA Region 3, was deployed there, and she’s assisting a resident with a roof that had come off of the property, which is going to be a common site for damage because of the wind speed, and we will be seeing a lot of that.
The Administrator mentioned we’ve actually forward-deployed plastic sheeting, and we’ll work with the Corps of Engineers in the coming days, as well as the state, to provide support to folks whose roofs have been damaged.
Next slide. And there, sir, you can see the actual roof that was ripped off of the residence.
Next slide. There’s a chlorine fire in Lake Charles that is a focus of our attention to support the state of Louisiana with. And the fire services are working that now.
Next slide. And some additional residence damage, and in the coming days, we anticipate that we’ll provide support for folks who’ve had their homes impacted, subject to your approval.
Next slide. Some significant wind damage there. You can really see the ferocity of the — of the wind impact.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, that’s really — it’s amazing.
MR. BIBO: Next slide. Lake Charles, again. Another communications tower, as well as an office building downtown. And significant glass damage that we’re seeing widespread from the wind, as well.
THE PRESIDENT: How many buildings are like that building?
MR. BIBO: That’s — that one has been popping up a lot, Mr. President. We haven’t — haven’t seen a lot of high-rise buildings like that, but we have seen extensive glass damage.
THE PRESIDENT: You don’t want to use that glass contractor, right?
MR. BIBO: Sir.
THE PRESIDENT: They didn’t do too good a job.
MR. BIBO: Next slide. And, sir, looking ahead to the next 72 hours — just an idea, in partnership with the state of the priorities that we have: getting the debris off the roads and the roads cleared; that lets the task forces do their work to make sure that people are safe. Making sure that people have a safe place to sleep if their homes have been damaged. And the American Red Cross and others play a major role in that. Power restoration: As the storm proceeds north, the power crews come in behind and begin restoration and will proceed north through Louisiana and Arkansas and others. Search and rescue underway.
We’ve had good news with healthcare facilities so far, sir. They’re operating on generator power, and so far, so good, on that front. And, of course, keeping our people safe in the field.
ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: Yes, sir. Before, sir, I turn it over — back over to yourself and the Vice President, our messaging today will continue to be to the residents that are impacted: Keep your family safe. Wait for the all clear. You know, heed the directions of your local emergency manager, your local elected officials. If you don’t have to go out, don’t go out. If you put you — if you put yourself out there just to go sightseeing, you put at risk other first responders that you take away from something maybe more important.
So again, stay home and pay attention to the — to the warnings that your local is giving — given to you. Stay out of the water; it’s dangerous. “Turn around, don’t drown” is our motto in these things. So, again, please don’t go out sightseeing.
Stay away from power — downed power lines. I know that residents are eager to get out there with a chainsaw and start clearing debris. And, in that, may be live wire. So again, be safe; keep your family safe.
And then, lastly, again, heed the direction of your local emergency managers, your local elected officials. They know best. So, stay tuned to that.
And so that’s going to be our message for this couple of days so we prevent injuries and deaths following the storm. And, again, you’ll see that problem will slightly spike up because that’s what happens on these big storms.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Pete.
ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: And, sir, I’ll — I’ll defer to —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I just wanted to say Mike did a fantastic job last night, and I think you deserve the honor of making your statement right now. You’ve made a big statement last night; let’s make a smaller one now.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. President. And I know I speak for you when I express our admiration for the team here — the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, NOAA, this interagency effort.
This is — was a serious storm. And, Mr. President, from this weekend, when you signed an emergency disaster declaration for Louisiana and Texas, this team forward-deployed resources.
We were ready for the worst. But, by all accounts from the experts, it sounds like while this was obviously a major storm with devastating impacts, it was not as bad as it could have been.
And the fact that while we grieve the loss of a young girl in Louisiana — and her family has our sympathies — this is a real tribute to first responders and to the people of Louisiana and Texas, who — who really put safety first.
But, Mr. President, I just would encourage people to keep — keep the people of Louisiana and Texas — and now Arkansas, where you’ve signed an emergency declaration as the tropical storm moves north — keep them in your prayers, but also keep in mind organizations like Red Cross that are also on the ground, that are providing assistance and support to all of the efforts for families.
But, Mr. President, you often say, in moments like this, that people can be assured that — that we will be with them. We were there to respond, rescue. And at your direction, with the resources that you’ve deployed, Mr. President, we’ll make sure that we’re with the people in Louisiana and Texas and any other areas of the country impacted by the storm until we bring everyone back, as you often say, bigger and better than ever before.
So thank you, Mr. President. And again, I want to echo your thanks and admiration for this team and all the — all the first responders and state and local authorities that are represented here.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s great, Mike. Thank you very much.
Any questions concerning the hurricane? Yeah, please.
Q Mr. President, will you be visiting the Gulf Coast? And if so, when?
THE PRESIDENT: Very shortly. We’ll be doing tonight — in fact, I was actually prepared to postpone the speech tonight and make it on Monday. I was going to Texas. I was going to Louisiana, maybe Arkansas. Looks like Arkansas — I just spoke to the governor — it’s going to be in pretty good shape, but they’ll need some help.
But now, it turned out, we got a little bit lucky. It was very big, it was very powerful, but it passed quickly. And so everything is on schedule. We’ll probably be going on Saturday or Sunday, and we’ll be heading to Texas and Louisiana, and maybe an additional stop. So that’ll either be on Saturday, a little bit in the afternoon, or Sunday. And we’ll be ready — I think you’ll be prepared by that time.
But I just want to thank all of the people from FEMA in particular, and all law enforcement and everyone else, locally, because they’ve done a fantastic job. So we’ll be going Saturday or Sunday.
Q Mr. President, could you also comment on what’s going on in Wisconsin and the NBA response to the violence?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. I can tell you that Wisconsin — I appreciate the governor calling and saying he wanted National Guard. As you know, last night was very quiet; the night before wasn’t. And the reason it wasn’t: They didn’t have proper protection.
But I respect the governor’s decision to get that protection. The National Guard did a fantastic job. Mark Meadows is here. We called up the National Guard, we sent it out, and they did a fantastic job last night. We had virtually no incident.
Portland should do the same thing. These are all Democrat- run cities that should do this as they did, really, in Wisconsin. So it went very, very smooth. We had a relatively small force. We can be much larger. If necessary, we’ll move a very large force there. But we didn’t need too much, and it worked out very well in Wisconsin.
And all I ask is that these cities that are having difficulty — if they call us, if they request that we send the National Guard, they will be there instantaneously. And we will put out the fire. We will put out the flame. We will put out the — the vandalism, because the vandalism and the looting is ridiculous to allow this to happen. I don’t know how they can possibly do it and why they do it. I don’t understand, because all they have to do is call. They can call me. They can call Mike. They can call any one of us. We’ll have the National Guard there, and we will stop the violence very quickly.
Chad, I think you might want to say something about that.
ACTING SECRETARY WOLF: Absolutely, Mr. President. I think what we’ve seen across the country, particularly in Portland and other cities, is when the capacity outstrips what the state and local law enforcement can do, they need to pick up the phone and they need to request help. In those cities that do that, we see the violence curbed and reduced almost immediately.
So I would encourage other states — or, sorry, other cities that are targets and that are experiencing this violence, particularly Portland — the governor needs to send in the National Guard, needs to step up and ask for help if they need it. It’s over three months of violent activity in Portland, and it needs to come to an end.
THE PRESIDENT: They could solve that problem so easily and so quickly. And it seems such a shame that for politi- — I guess political reasons, I don’t know. It can’t be good for them politically. But these — let’s call them Democrat governors, or, frankly, we’ll respond to a mayor also if they need help. But Portland is a great example. It’s been going on for 90 days, and we could put it out in one hour. All they have to do is ask us to come, and we will be there with the National Guard.
We actually sent Homeland Security officers in to protect the courthouse because they were unable to protect the courthouse. And as soon as they got there, the courthouse was protected, but we’d like to go a big step further than that. And we could fix the problem very quickly, but they have to call us, and they have to — we have to respond to their call. That’s the way it works.
Q And your reaction, sir, to the NBA protest yesterday against another shooting of a black man by police?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know much about the NBA protest. I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA, frankly. But I don’t know too much about the protest.
But I know their ratings have been very bad, and that’s too — that’s unfortunate. They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing. I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or for the country.
Q Mr. President, you have a large storm; you have the fallout from these police shootings. Is tonight an appropriate time to have a political celebration?
THE PRESIDENT: Very appropriate. The country is doing very well, economically. We’re on a “V.” It could even be a super “V.” We set a record last quarter on jobs. The job numbers were, as you know, over 9 million jobs. That’s a record in the history of our country.
I think we’re going to have a GDP that’s going to be mindboggling. Now, that’ll be announced, interestingly, just before the election. So that’ll be very interesting. But the Fed, as you know, the Atlanta — I guess it was the Atlanta Fed announced that they projected a 26 percent GDP. There’s never been any such thing anywhere in the world as a 26 percent GDP.
So we’re doing very well. We’re coming back. And that’s despite the fact that great places like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan are shut down unnecessarily at this point. It’s crazy what they’re doing. But they’re doing it, I think, for political reasons because they’d like their number to be as low as possible. And, actually, I think they’re making a tremendous mistake.
And you have to remember: The shutdown, what we did initially, was a — was a very, very important thing. Otherwise, you’d have millions of people dead. You would have millions of people. And then we learned and we watched, and we watched closely. And now we have vaccines coming very soon. We have therapeutics. It’s been incredible, what’s taken place.
But I have to say, they should open up their states. Let them open. Let them open safely and carefully. Open up their schools. Let them play football. It’s got to open up.
And we had a great number of doctors, as you know, in the office yesterday — the world’s leading experts on this. And there’s great danger to shutdowns, and that’s in the form of suicides, in the form of alcoholism and drug use, and so many other things are caused. It’s a bigger problem.
So whether it’s North Carolina, Pennsylvania, or Michigan, or others, they should open up, and we have to get on with it. We have to get on with it. It’s very sad. It’s very dangerous what they’re doing actually. And they’re doing it —
Q Mr. President, have you seen the video of the shooting death of Jacob Blake?
THE PRESIDENT: — and they’re doing it for political reasons.
So we have tremendous passion for this country. We love our country, and we want our country to do well. And I’ll see you all tonight. Thank you very much.
2:25 P.M. EDT