The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 3, 2007

Press Gaggle by Scott Stanzel and FEMA Director David Paulison
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Alabama

8:28 A.M. EST

MR. STANZEL: Good morning, everybody. Thank you all for being here. Just wanted to talk with you a little bit about the President's day.

As you know, the President is traveling to Enterprise, Alabama. He'll receive a briefing from local officials and meet with some local families that have been impacted by the storms there. Then we'll continue on to Americus, Georgia, where he'll also have a briefing with local officials.

We'll be taking the helicopter between the two locations, so as we get there and as we arrive in both communities, we'll have an opportunity to take an aerial view of the damage, as well.

I'm joined here today by FEMA Director David Paulison. So he'll talk with you a little bit about the partnership that we have with state and locals, and give you a sense of the federal government's activities in response to this storm.

So, Director Paulison.

DIRECTOR PAULISON: The President and I are coming down to get some firsthand look at the damage. We've had teams on the ground just a few hours after the storms. But this truly is a partnership with the local community and the state and the federal government. That's the new FEMA.

The system we used in the past, waiting for a local community to become overwhelmed before the state steps in, waiting for the state to become overwhelmed before the federal government steps in, doesn't work. We have to go in as partners, so that's what we're going to be doing.

As soon as the hurricanes hit -- I'm sorry, the tornadoes hit, I was on the phone with the State Emergency Manager, Bruce Baughman -- what do you need, what can we do? So we started moving equipment, supplies, food, water, ice, and communications equipment in immediately, even before -- the Governor had not even asked for the declaration at that time. We were right by their side.

We're doing preliminary damage assessments in Alabama; they're almost completed. And this morning we'll start preliminary damage assessments in Georgia to get a good handle exactly what the damage is and where it is.

We moved in -- like I said earlier, we moved truckloads of water, truckloads of ice, truckloads of blue tarps, plastic sheeting, communications equipment to make sure that the state has everything it needs to take care of those residents whose homes were damaged.

Q Do you get assurances from the people on the scene that the President's visit doesn't in any way interfere with the relief and recovery efforts?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: Absolutely. The first -- what we do is call, call the State Emergency Manager, if we come down, is that going to interfere with what you're doing. And the answer is, absolutely not, we want you here; we want to show you personally where the damage is. It's important that I see it, because we have decisions to make about whether there's going to be declarations signed or not. The President wants to see it personally, and the local community and the state has said, absolutely, we want you to come down and see this.

Q And what have you heard from your preliminary assessment so far in Alabama? What do the figures look like?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: What we've seen so far is -- now, they're not complete yet, but it looks like Coffee County is the heaviest damage. That's where Enterprise is. That's the bulk of the damaged homes, and that's what we're focusing on today. The others are not as damaged. Some of the damage on the coastline were vacation homes, but when you get back inside closer to Enterprise, they're the homes people lived in, and that's where the focus is. And of course, the school is totally damaged, also.

Q Will you be using this visit to determine whether or not to declare a disaster, or determine a certain level of federal aid? What are you looking for?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: That's why we're down here now. That's why we're doing these preliminary damage assessments with the teams, to see what kind of damage is, and see, does it overwhelm the state. And that's the main priority -- is the damage significant enough that it overwhelms the local and state capabilities to handle it without federal assistance.

Q What's your best guess on that, is it significant enough?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: Well, we're processing the declaration now. Again, that's why I'm coming down. I want to see it firsthand because I have to make the recommendation to the President.

Q But there's no doubt these people will be getting federal assistance, the communities that were hit, right?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: That's not been determined yet.

Q Really?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: Yes. It has to be -- again, the damage has to overwhelm the local and state community, and that's why we're looking -- that's why I have teams on the ground. I have 14 teams down here doing home inspections, looking at the public assistance piece of it, what public infrastructures were destroyed, what single family homes were destroyed, what kind of businesses were destroyed.

MR. STANZEL: Any other questions?

Q Is there a monetary threshold when you say, does the damage overwhelm the state? What is the monetary threshold?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: It depends on the state, it depends on the amount of insurance. For example, if you had an area of 100 percent homeowners insurance, there would be no reason for the federal government to step in, because we can't duplicate benefits. So it's a combination of monetary damage, a combination of number of homes destroyed, and a combination of the impact on the community. It's a whole complicated formula that goes into us making a decision to make a recommendation to the President for a declaration.

Q And when would you expect a recommendation to be final? How soon?

DIRECTOR PAULISON: We should be able to do this fairly quickly, because I'm coming down personally to see it.

MR. STANZEL: All right, thank you all.

END 8:34 A.M. EST

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