For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 16, 2008
Press Gaggle by Scott Stanzel and FEMA Administrator David Paulison
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Houston, Texas
9:30 A.M. EDT
MR. STANZEL: Good morning, everyone. We're en route to Houston, Texas, and will later travel to Galveston, Texas, to view the devastation from Hurricane Ike. We have a special guest with us on board today, Director -- Administrator David Paulison of FEMA, who we'll -- I'll turn it over to here shortly to give you a rundown of the federal cooperation with state and local officials in the preparation, response and recovery to the hurricane.
We're also joined by Secretary Mike Leavitt; Senator John Cornyn; and Gail McGovern, the President and CEO of the American Red Cross.
On the President's schedule today, before I turn it over to Chief Paulison, the President, at 7:30 a.m. this morning, spoke with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. At 9:05 a.m. this morning, the President -- at 9:05 a.m. Central Time, the President will participate in a briefing on Hurricane Ike damage. That will be in Houston. At 9:35 a.m. then, the President will participate in an aerial tour of the Texas hurricane damage. Governor Rick Perry will be on board to lead the tour. The President will also be joined by Secretary Leavitt. Chief Paulison will also be on Marine One, as will, I believe, Steve McCraw, who is the Director of Texas Office of Homeland Security.
At 10:15 a.m., the President will participate in a briefing at the City of Galveston Emergency Operations Center, in Galveston. And then the President returns to the White House today at 3:10 p.m.
And as we let you know yesterday, the President will receive a briefing on financial market conditions from the President's Working Group on Financial Markets at 3:30 p.m. today. And that is in the Roosevelt Room. And participating in that meeting will be Secretary Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, who chairs the group; Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke; SEC Chairman Chris Cox; CFTC Acting Chairman Walt Lukken; as well as White House staff.
So that is the President's schedule for the day. And now I'd like to turn it over to Administrator Paulison for some thoughts on the hurricane.
Q Just one quick question. At 7:30 a.m. this morning, did you say Paulison or Paulson?
MR. STANZEL: Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury. That's correct.
Q On the plane then? After he left the White House?
MR. STANZEL: He left the White House at 7:00 a.m. I'll get the logistics on that. I was just given the time, but that's a very good question. We'll put a note in the gaggle transcript.*
Q Do you know what they talked about?
MR. STANZEL: They talked about the financial markets. I don't have any other details of their call.
Q Who placed the phone call, do you know?
MR. STANZEL: I don't know.
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: We just did this. We're still in the -- we're still partly in the response and rescue phase. Yesterday they found 60 more people that were trapped in their home -- not by collapse --
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Six-zero. And as we continue to go into some of the more rural areas we're going to find more people.
Q Where exactly were they?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I don't remember exactly where they were, but in a rural area they found like a housing place where there were -- 60 people were still stuck there because of flood waters. And we're going to find more of those. But the rescue phase is winding down, except for going to those areas like that.
We're now moving into the sustainment phase. We've opened PODs yesterday, getting people meals, getting food and water, ice, blankets and tarps, and things like that are going out. That's been going very well. A lot of long lines, there's no question about that, but everybody is able to get through and get some meals and get ice and water to take back to their houses.
Now we're going to also have to go into the long-term housing phase. That's going to be a lot of people that cannot go home after this whole thing is over because their homes are going to be destroyed. So we're setting up with the state a joint housing task force that will be led by the state, and involve the state, local community, FEMA, HUD, HHS, the VA, the Department of Agriculture and a couple other federal departments, to deal with the longer-term housing so people can get back in the housing.
Like we've seen in past hurricanes, sometimes it's months or even 18 months before people get back into their homes. So we've got to make sure we find a place for people to stay -- looking at apartments, looking at some of the extended-stay hotel-type facilities to make sure people have a safe, comfortable place to stay until their homes are rebuilt.
So that's kind of where we are. The power is coming back on very quickly. I think statewide we're down to about to 2.2 million people without power. As these big grids come back online, we're going to see more and more people coming back online. By the end of the week, we should see most of Houston back up with power -- probably at least 70 percent by the end of the week. So that's a good thing. When power comes back on, good things happen. And we want people to be able to get back in their homes, the ones that were not destroyed. So that's going to be working pretty well.
Working very closely with the state, very closely with the local community to make sure that we are in a support role to give them the things they need, but allowing them to lead and run this disaster-recovery piece.
Q -- 2.2 million people, though, that's still 21 percent of the state of Texas, isn't it?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: That's statewide, that's correct, 21 percent, yes, sir.
Q That's what it was yesterday.
Q Yes, that's what it was yesterday, late yesterday.
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Now, these are yesterday's figures. I haven't got today's yet, so it's just what we gave you yesterday.
Q Did you say by the end of the week you expect 70 percent of the power in Houston back on?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: That's what the power companies are telling us. By the end of the week, they should be back up around 70 percent.
Q How about Galveston?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Galveston is going to have a tough time. That's heavy devastation there. You've seen it just like I have. And it's going to be a longer-term fix than getting Houston back up.
A lot of the main transmission lines are down there, a lot of damage to the -- a lot more damage to the power system than we see in other parts of the state. So that area, Orange City, those areas are going to be a lot longer to get back up.
Q What about -- for the oil refineries and stuff?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I'm going to have to -- we did -- so far we haven't seen a lot of damage to the oil refineries themselves. Of course, now we haven't gone and done all the assessments yet. So what we want to do is to let those oil companies get back in, look at the refineries and see how long it's going to take to get back up and running again.
Q What is he going to see today on the aerial tour?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: He's going to see the devastation. We're going to fly over Galveston. We'll fly over the devastated areas. He wants to get a good firsthand view of exactly what's out there and what kind of damage we have. And then he wants to meet with the local officials. We're going to meet in Houston -- you heard the thing -- talk to Jack Colley, talk to the Governor. Then we'll go out to Galveston and talk to the Mayor and talk to the emergency managers out there. He wants to talk to some of the first responders and just get a firsthand feel of exactly what's happened and how they're doing and what their needs are.
Q What's the biggest problem in Galveston going forward? Is it sanitation? Is it lack of water? Is it disease, mosquitoes?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: It's going to be all of that. We're -- I know there's a couple sanitation areas that need generators. We're working with them to see what we need. We'll be -- we'll get the Corps of Engineers out there, do an assessment of what size generators we need to get that sanitation back up and running. But that whole infrastructure has been really damaged, so it's going to be a while before people are going to be able to live in their homes.
Q Secretary Paulison, you've done a lot of these trips with the President. Can you put this disaster on the spectrum of the other ones that you've seen? Is this the worst, next to Katrina? Or how do you assess it?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Boy, that's a tough call. This storm affected a lot of states. Right now Ohio has more people without power than Louisiana, as the storm went through there last night. They had a lot of devastation, a lot of tornadoes spun off of it. So it's not just affected Texas and Louisiana, it's affected all the way through the Midwest.
So it's going to be a big issue for us that -- people are looking at maybe there wasn't a lot of damage from this storm, and that's absolutely wrong. There was a tremendous amount of damage in probably half a dozen states from this storm as it went through the country.
Q Back to the refineries, is the problem flooding at the refineries or damage to equipment, or just a lack of crude so they can't process it?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I think -- and again, you're asking the wrong guy about energy. There's plenty of crude. It's the idea of getting the refineries back up and running again. And what the oil companies have to do is get in there, assess what the damage is, and see how long it's going to take to get them back up and running.
At least from an aerial view, it doesn't appear they were destroyed or heavily damaged, but then again, you're talking to the wrong guy. Where there's electrical damage or things like that, I don't know.
MR. STANZEL: Kevin Kolevar from the Department of Energy is on board with us, too, and I'd be happy to bring him back to talk with you further about energy issues, if you'd like.
Q Can I just ask you about the plan for housing the people who are displaced? I mean, do you have a long-term plan for where they will be going? Will it be this scene like it was in Katrina where people literally moved away and never came back? Do you expect that?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I don't think that's what's going to happen, no. What we did in Iowa was we set up a joint housing task force that I just talked about, led by the state, to work as a team on how we're going to house people. So it's not just kind of ad hoc, like it was with Katrina. We want a more organized type of thing. It's worked well in Ohio. We had a lot of people without housing there. And we used a combination of things there -- I'm sorry, I said Ohio -- Iowa -- where we used apartments, we used hotels, we used motels, extended stay type hotels, we used some modular housing, like mobile homes. So it was a combination of things to give people a safe place to stay.
We're going to do the same thing in Texas, and we're now also doing in Louisiana. It will be a state-led housing task force that involves all the players involved in housing. So this is our new housing strategy that FEMA put together, just released this last summer, and we're now we're putting it in place and it's starting to work very well.
Q But is there any concern that instability in the housing market across the country could affect your plans to get these people into homes?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I don't think so, because we're looking at getting available apartments, like I said, extended-stay hotels. If we have to use mobile homes -- that will be a state call -- we have them available, we can put them down. And we're going to look at everything that's available, so instead of focusing on one particular thing -- like we did in Katrina, using travel trailers -- we're going to look at a multitude of things to house people. And again, it will be led by the state and we'll make sure that we all work together to find whatever housing is available and find a good place for people to stay.
Q The Galveston people are looking at trailers, primarily?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: No, no, I didn't say that at all, no. That will be a state call of what they're going to do. Our first option is to put people in hotels and motels. The next phase is to put people in apartments or available housing, duplexes, things like that.
Q Are there any left in Galveston?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I don't think there's anything left in Galveston like that, so it would be outside of that. So we'll look at how can we house people as close as we can to where they live. That's what the goal is.
Q -- decision yet to come yet on the --
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Right. They're having their first meeting today. We know it's an issue we have to deal with, but now is the time to start.
Q When you said the 60 people trapped in the rural area -- rural area of what?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I think where they were looking yesterday is in the Orange County area, where they had some flooding. It was just people in their homes, they weren't -- the buildings weren't collapsed, they just needed help to get out of the flooded area.
Q On a trip like this, what is it a President can accomplish?
ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: The President accomplishes a lot. First of all, he gets firsthand knowledge of what the real issues are, and he can direct his staff to make sure that we deal with those things. Two, he's able to give a message of comfort to the people that are out there, that tell them the federal government is here, we're not going anywhere until this thing is over. And then, three, he gives encouragement to people. To hear him talk to the people out there on the ground about what happens during these storms, the fact that first you're in shock, then you're mad, and then things start getting better -- there is a light at the end of tunnel. I mean, things do get better as they go along. He is very good in doing those things. I've seen him do it a lot of times -- hug people, talk to them, encourage them, but most of all, make the commitment that the federal government is going to be here to help the state and the local community get back on their feet.
MR. STANZEL: I think we need to start to get seated here, unless there are any other questions.
Q Thank you.
MR. STANZEL: Thank you, all.
Q Can we ask you, do you have --
MR. STANZEL: Yes, you can ask me one or two, if you have them.
Q Do you have anything new to report on the financial situation?
MR. STANZEL: No, I mean, the President spoke with Secretary Paulson this morning. As you've heard the President say and as Secretary Paulson said, we're encouraged that economic officials and market participants are doing all they can to promote market stability. The health of the financial markets is very important to our overall economy. So it is something that we're watching closely. The President is staying in touch with his advisors and paying close attention to what's going on in the markets, and he'll have an opportunity to receive a briefing from the working group this afternoon.
Q Scott, do you have any comment on the lowered credit ratings of AIG? That is one of the next big things.
MR. STANZEL: I don't.
Q Does the President have some concerns about that, or does he have thoughts about --
MR. STANZEL: I don't have any comment on that.
Q Did he hear anything this morning from Treasury Secretary Paulson about maybe any other firm that might be sort of wobbly?
MR. STANZEL: I don't have a detailed readout of their call. I was just made aware of that call as we were taking off, so I don't have a detailed readout of it.
Q If you were made aware of the call as we were taking off, that means the call happened before -- not from the plane?
Q Yes, at 7:30 a.m.
MR. STANZEL: Yes, I'll put an asterisk in the gaggle to say the exact time. But we took off --
Q -- before he left Washington?
MR. STANZEL: Before he left Washington would be accurate.
Q Okay, we just don't know when and where.
MR. STANZEL: Yes, I don't know if he was actually sitting on the plane while it happened.
END 9:47 A.M. EDT
* The President spoke to Treasury Secretary Paulson at 7:30 a.m. from Air Force One.