A woman looks over damage to a neighborhood caused by Hurricane Ida on Aug. 30, 2021 in Kenner, Louisiana. Ida made landfall Sunday as a category 4 storm southwest of New Orleans. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden pledged to state and local leaders in Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday that his administration will provide whatever is needed as communities deal with the brutal destruction left by Hurricane Ida.
That storm already has resulted in one confirmed death, and that tally is likely to grow, Biden said as he met virtually with the governors from the two Gulf states and a handful of mayors and other local officials.
“The main thing I want to make clear to all of you is we’re providing any help you’re going to need,” Biden told the group.
So far, that federal assistance has included millions of meals and liters of water and more than 200 generators that the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent in ahead of Ida’s landfall. Officials also have been working with electric providers to try to minimize the time required to get power back on to New Orleans and other places without electricity.
Biden said he has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to work with electric companies in Louisiana and Mississippi to authorize the use of surveillance drones in assessing damage to the energy infrastructure. He also has directed the Pentagon to release any satellite images that may be useful in those damage assessments.
For those struggling to get a signal on their cell phone, the Federal Communications Commission has worked with cell phone providers on a cooperative agreement that will allow customers to access a signal through another provider if theirs is not able to provide service, Biden said.
Help also is rolling in from other states: Biden said more than 25,000 debris crews and linemen from at least 30 states are rolling in to help get transmission lines working again.
Biden repeatedly urged the state and local leaders to call the White House if they need any assistance, adding that their point person will be someone extremely familiar with Louisiana’s needs: former Congressman Cedric Richmond, now a senior adviser in the Biden administration.
“Whatever you need, go to Cedric, he’ll get to me, we’ll get you what you need,” Biden said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards thanked Biden for signing two disaster declarations already, and said his team is working on a housing assistance program may need an assist from Washington.
Edwards told Biden and the other White House officials that while the levee system performed well, his state still will be facing a long road to recovery.
“It would be a different story altogether if any of those levee systems had failed,” Edwards said. “Having said that, the damage is still catastrophic.”
Edwards estimated that close to 2 million people are without electricity across Louisiana. Efforts to restore that service have prioritized hospitals, and that the Army Corps of Engineers is identifying additional generators to bring to hospitals until that service is back.
The response remains in a search-and-rescue mode, Edwards said, describing search efforts that began at daylight today with teams from 16 states. He also praised the Coast Guard’s work on the first hospital rescue in Galliano, where seven patients were moved after the building’s roof was totally destroyed.
Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told Biden of the lack of electricity and water service, resulting in a boil-water advisory and the potential for sewer system backups soon, due to that system running on electricity.
Residents that have left the area are being encouraged to stay away for now, “because we do not have the modern amenities to bring them home,” Sheng said.
“It’s going to be difficult life for quite some time,” she said.
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