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At This Hour

PA Governor Briefs on Deadly Historic Floods; Joe Biden: FEMA Ready to Provide All Assistance Needed; Joe Biden: "The Nation is Here to Help" Storm Victims; Biden Addresses Historic Northeast Floods, Hurricane Response; Severe Flooding Cripples Philadelphia, Major Highway Closed. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 02, 2021 - 12:00   ET



WILLIAM TURNER, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, CHESTER COUNTY, PA: Straight line taking in downs those streets and that's where we're basically looking at National Weather Service to confirm if it was a straight line or a tornado?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Honestly for the people whose homes affected right? It doesn't really matter because the damage can still be the same. What is your message? What do you need residents to know right now?

TURNER: You know, and when we woke up this morning, it was a beautiful sunny day, you know, the heat and humidity finally broken, you might have looked outside and thought that everything was OK. But the reality is there's a lot of damage out there. There are still a lot of areas where the water's coming down.

So we're really just encouraging everybody to be careful out there, stay off the roads if you can, and just listen to the, you know, local officials and any information that they're sharing with you.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Turner, thank you so much for giving us the very latest from Chester County this affecting so many counties so many cities, so many towns in Pennsylvania, thanks for the update there. So top of the hour I'm Kate Bolduan, thank you so much for sticking with us.

We are following just breaking news all throughout the Northeast, active water rescues are underway in 3 states at this point in Pennsylvania, and well also, let's add a fourth in Pennsylvania. And we're seeing some out of in Delaware as well in New Jersey and in parts of New York.

Historic flooding, breaking records, record amounts of rainfall coming in just a matter of hours and that is what is so different about this storm that we were hearing from officials. It's not just the total amount of water. It's all of the rain falling in just a short amount of time.

And the pictures that you're looking at what we're being told from officials is what's happened with the remnants of Hurricane IDA here is places that don't usually flood. They are flooding, places that don't normally face tornadoes. They are getting hit.

We heard from the Mayor of Mamaroneck. It's a new city out in Westchester County right outside of New York City saying that there are parts even though that that town is on the water on the Long Island Sound parts of that town that no one ever sees flooding or has a problem. They need to be rescued out of their homes as well all of this playing out.

We're waiting to hear from - oh, I was just going to say we're waiting to hear from Pennsylvania's Governor and he is beginning to brief about the situation devastation there. Let's listen in.


GOVERNOR TOM WOLF (D-PA): --in each community depending on the damage from the storm, and the ongoing demands on the emergency services and the emergency personnel. I know that today many people in Pennsylvania are hurting. We experienced the historic storm here all across the Commonwealth.

And many people had to deal with rare weather events that don't normally affect them, their families, and their communities. A lot of Pennsylvania's will be dealing with very hard emotions today. They're going to be dealing with hard emotions tomorrow. And they're going to be dealing with hard emotions in the near future.

If you are struggling with stress from the storm help is available. You can call or text our disaster distress helpline at 1-800-985-5990 at any time, day or night. That's 1-800-985-5990. We all have a long road ahead of us. It will take time to complete damage assessments and make assistance and resources available.

But we're going to continue to share information about assistance as it becomes available in the days and weeks ahead. Right now my administration is continuing to do everything in our power to support local emergency officials as they begin to assess the damage this storm has caused in their communities.

While we all need to have some patience as we move forward, the response efforts to damage assessment recovery are taking place as we speak. There are things that Pennsylvania's can do now to prepare for what comes next. Let's be vigilant. Thank you and now I'm going to turn things over to PEMA Director Randy Padfield to discuss more, Randy.

RANDY PADFIELD, PENNSYLVANIA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: Thank you, Governor and good afternoon. We know it's been a long last 24 to 36 hours for first responders and citizens of the Commonwealth who have been affected by Tropical Storm IDA. And I'd like to echo the Governor's comments thanking them for their service and dedication.

The Governor pointed out how dangerous some of this work happens to be. And I'd actually like to point out a situation that occurred last night while we're here in the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center. In one of the southeast counties, teams are out conducting flood evacuation and water rescues. One of the teams actually in their boat, a number of firefighters got pinned up against a bridge pier by moving water and ended up having to be rescued themselves and actually transported to the hospital for evaluation. So this is extremely dangerous work. And we actually like to thank the citizens that really heated the message to not go out and not put themselves in those situations.


PADFIELD: The first responders have performed valiantly over the last 24 to 36 hours. Starting early yesterday morning and working throughout the day and overnight hours local first responders, both volunteer and career, have tirelessly responded to numerous water rescue and flooding situations to rescue and evacuate those in need open roads, clear debris and restore utilities.

And to give you a kind of a sense, or context of this, one of the counties that we were working with last night on a conference call indicated that they believe that they had just in that county responded with their first responders to over - well over 500 water rescue calls in one county.

Last evening and throughout the overnight hours as the storm progressed across the state, we saw significant impacts to the southeast portion of the state in the Greater Philadelphia area, not only in the form of flooding, but also in the form of destructive tornadoes which necessitated surging resources in that area of the state to effectively respond to the needs in those counties.

While the water is receding in most parts of the state, we are still seeing ongoing flooding in the southeast portion of the state some are which is surpassing record flood levels. And there are rescues ongoing.

We also know that IDA has not only caused significant damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure, but for many it is significantly disrupted lives and families as the Governor has indicated. During the planning and response phases, we have also been concurrently planning for recovery operations to hasten the recovery of those that have been adversely impacted.

This process has many pieces, but starts with meeting the immediate needs that individuals or families have for shelter, temporary housing, food and security. Volunteer organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, religious organizations, and other voluntary organizations that are active in disasters are usually the organizations that work to meet those most critical needs first, but they can be supplemented by other programs.

These programs are coordinated through your local emergency management office. Another phase of the recovery process involves a damage assessment for both individual damages and damage to public infrastructure and property such as roads, bridges, and parks.

This part of the recovery process is critical to justify request for federal aid and support. Today throughout the Commonwealth, individuals from your local municipality and the county will start the damage assessment process.

Currently, we actually have over flights occurring to be able to capture a larger area of imagery in some of the most impacted areas of the Commonwealth. This is being done to be able to hasten the request process for federal aid.

It is critical that if you've been impacted by this event, that you report your damages to your Local Emergency Management Coordinator or the County Emergency Management Office. Other things you can do include contact your insurance company as soon as possible to discuss your coverage and begin your claims process.

Take pictures of the damages you incurred for future reference and justification. Contact your Credit Card Company or bank to report damaged, lost or stolen cards. Save any receipts for items you purchased in support of your recovery. Identify items that you wish to save and begin the cleaning process which may include hiring a cleaning or Restoration Company.

Or, as I discussed previously, many of the volunteer organizations offer some assistance with muck outs and cleanup if your residence is adversely impacted by flooding. You can find these and many more tips in the after the disaster guide on the "ReadyPA" website at

Above all, we want those affected to know that there are many individuals working in all levels of government and within numerous organizations to hasten the recovery. The best way to know what is available and when it will be available is to stay informed.


BOLDUAN: Alright, we're going to go over to President Biden he is now coming up to speak about the devastation from Hurricane IDA.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: --for further updates. I spoke with Governor Hochul of New York and Governor Murphy of New Jersey, and I planned to speak with Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania after last night's devastating storm and floods from Hurricane IDA the fifth largest hurricane in our history.

Record rain fell in the states. New York recorded more rain yesterday, the first day of September, and it usually sees the entire month of September. We saw more than three inches of rain per hour fall in Central Park. The United States National Weather Service issued a flood emergency in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and parts of Long Island last night.


BIDEN: This is the first time that such a warning has ever been issued for the city. People were trapped in the subways with heroic men and women in New York Fire Department rescued all of them. They were - they were trapped. We're seeing the same story of devastation and heroism across New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well.

For now 11 people in New York and New Jersey died because of the storm. And I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all the first responders and everyone who has been working through the night and well into the morning to save lives and get power back. There's a lot of damage.

And I made clear to the Governors that my team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA is on the ground and ready to provide all the assistance is needed. In fact, our FEMA Director Administrator Deanne Criswell, well, as was the Chief Federal Response Officer, after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. She knows what to do.

And last night at the request of California Governor Newsome I approved an emergency declaration for California for the Caldor fire, which is burning aggressively toward Lake Tahoe Basin and in Nevada it's also one of the few fires that has ever burned from one side of Sierra Nevada mountain range to the other.

So far, it's burned more than 200,000 acres tens of thousands of people have been had to evacuate their homes. The fires threatening close to 35,000 structures and more than 4400 firefighters from the state and my federal team are working to contain and suppress this raging wildfire.

The Department of Defense has trained and is deploying additional firefighters to support our ongoing firefighting efforts in California. This disaster declaration will help with evacuation including sheltering and feeding for those who have been displaced.

I want you to know, I've seen these firefighters up close. Their courage is astounding. And they're some of the bravest people I've ever known. I've known a lot of them. My heart goes out to them my thanks - and abundant thanks for what they do.

Now, I want to provide an update in our efforts to help millions of Americans down south recover and rebuild from Hurricane IDA. We've been monitoring this hurricane closely and the devastation that's caused to date six deaths, about a million homes without power in Louisiana and Mississippi.

While the catastrophic flooding wasn't as severe as it was during Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. IDA was so powerful that it caused the Mississippi River literally to change direction; the flow changed the flow temporarily.

The good news is that as a result of significant multibillion dollar federal investment in levee system around Metro New Orleans, it held it was strong it worked. But too many people in too many areas are still unprotected and saw a storm surge and flooding that was devastating.

We've seen the reports of winds up to 170 miles per hour. It's not been confirmed yet by FEMA but 170 miles an hour, causing unimaginable damage, with debris and downed power lines making roads impassable, and slowing response efforts to save folks and property. Now that people continue to shelter in place. Tomorrow, I'll be traveling to Louisiana to meet with Governor John Bel Edwards as well as the parish presidents and mayors and local officials representing the affected areas.

Governor Edwards encouraged me to come and assured me that my visit will not disrupt recovery efforts on the ground. That's what I wanted to be sure of. My message to everyone affected is we're all in this together. The nation is here to help.

That's the message I've been making clear to the mayors, governors energy and utility leaders in the region who my administration has been working closely with over the past few days. Working with governors in the area even before IDA made landfall, I issued emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi to help us respond quickly.

FEMA pre-positioned more than 4.3 million meals and more than 3 million liters of water and other critical resources in the region before it hit. We deployed more - we deployed more than 250 generators and we're working to getting more into the area especially to hospitals in desperate need of them.


BIDEN: The Department of Health and Human Services deployed 250 -- A- 250 bed, federal medical shelter in New Orleans, and five medical assistance teams available throughout the state. Since the hurricane hit, more than 6000 members of the National Guard have been activated in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, and other states to support search and rescue and recovery efforts.

For those have lost their home states have been working with the red - American Red Cross to open almost 50 shelters across the Gulf Coast. We know that there is much to be done in this response on our part. We need to get power restored; we need to get more food fuel and water deployed.

I get hourly updates in the progress from FEMA well into the night. And we'll be working around the clock until the critical needs of the region are fully met, and we will meet them. It is we tackle the core elements of the disaster response.

We're also deploying new tools to help speed this recovery, things that have not been used very much in prior hurricane responses working with private companies that own and operate the lifeline infrastructure, like electricity and communications.

We've used the latest technology to accelerate restoration of power and cell phone service is beginning to get back up. There's a long way to go. For example, to minimize the amount of time it will take to get the power back to everyone. I've directed the Federal Aviation Commission, the FAA to authorize the use of surveillance drones to assist IDA's damage to assess IDA's damage to energy infrastructure, while ensuring those slides did not disrupt aerial search and rescue missions. Likewise, I've asked the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy to immediately make available any satellite imagery they can help provide in assessing the extent of the damage. Drones and satellites can make the work faster by getting into the places that are most desperately in need.

They can then identify where the lines are down, map the damage, help get the transmission lines back up and running and all the parishes, people hard working people through the complicated and dangerous work for more than 25,000 linemen, and clearance crews from 32 states and the District of Columbia racing to restore power.

In Alabama two have died on the job. This is complicated, really dangerous work for remote as fast as humanly possible to get it done. It's important to know that the region hit by IDA is a key center of our nation's oil production and refining infrastructure. That's why we're not waiting to assess the full impact of the storm is going to have on oil production and refineries.

Removing already quickly to increase the availability of gas and easing the pressure on gas prices around the country. I've directed the Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to use all of the tools at her disposal including using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to keep gas flowing to the pumps in order to get critical supplies to the region.

To beat the pandemic I directed the Department of Transportation to renew an energy declaration to provide flexibility on how many hours a truck driver can drive. Most people know there's a limitation on the number of hours you can be on the road.

The transportation department is broadening that emergency declaration include transportation of gasoline and other types of fuel as well in addition to medical supplies and food. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency's has approved emergency waivers for Louisiana and Mississippi that will expand the supply of gasoline that can be sold in those states and increase availability at such a critical time.

These actions should help reduce the risk of gas shortages and price increases as a result of the hurricane. We also know a lot of people lost cell phone service because their particular carriers' tower went down or got damaged.

A few days ago, I asked the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC and my White House team to work with the cell phone companies to allow customers to use roaming services. So that means that folks in the area should be able to get a signal no matter what carrier they're at when if they're one carrier down they can roam and use another carrier they're not part of they're not signed up with.


BIDEN: Let's think of sons and daughters, moms and dads love when trying to reach each other and a feeling of fear well, maybe something happened, just because they can't the cell phone's not working. Think of the millions of people reaching out for help. This is important, and it's critical.

Now, a lot of private companies and public entities are doing their part. Today, I'm calling on insurance companies not to evade the responsibility to keep the priorities they made to their customers and the promises they made, and help some folks who are hurting.

Here's the deal. FEMA is providing critical need assistance, for example, to help the hotel bill, you're racked up because you couldn't stay in your home during the hurricane. The Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, HUD is also offering assistance to families in impacted areas.

But right now, we're hearing reports as some insurance companies may deny coverage for additional living assistance expenses, unless the homeowner was under a mandatory evacuation order. So people pay their insurance premiums. And they're supposed to get payments from their insurance companies for relocation costs.

But insurance companies in the face of the strongest storm since 1850, said no, no. We're not going to pay what we owe you. Because the fact is, perishes in Louisiana like New Orleans and St. John's issued a voluntary evacuation order at first and may not have even had enough time to make a mandatory one as the storm moved in so fast.

Other parish's voluntary evacuation order suggested that residents could try to protect themselves by sheltering in place against the ferocious winds. We can all understand why folks felt safest leaving their homes and going elsewhere out of the path, the devastating storm.

No one, no one fled this killer storm because they were looking for a vacation or a road trip, they will stay in a hotel. They left their homes because they felt it was fleeing or risk death. There's nothing voluntary about that. So I'm calling on the private insurance companies right now, at this critical moment.

Don't hide behind the fine print and technicality. Do your job. Keep your commitments to your communities that you insure do the right thing. And pay your policyholders what you owe them to cover the cost of temporary housing in the midst of a natural disaster.

Help those in need that's what all of us need to do. That's what we're trying to do. FEMA has pushed out $77 million to the people of Louisiana so far individuals, my message to people in the Gulf Coast, and I'm going to visit tomorrow. We are here for you. And we're making sure the response and recovery is equitable.

So those hit hardest get the resources they need and are not left behind. Whether you're a homeowner or renter, a parent, a small business owner, no matter whom you are? If you live in the affected area, please visit goes online and visit to find help now that's or call 1-800-621 FEMA F-E-M-A 1-800 621 FEMA, F-E-M-A. That's 1-800- 621-3362 there's help you can qualify for right away.

I've talked - I've tasked my Senior Advisor, Cedric Richmond, New Orleans neighbor and Former Congressman from Louisiana Second District for 10 years to lead this relief effort. He knows the area. He knows the people. He knows how to get things done. He knows they get things done when local, state and federal level are all working together alongside the private sector.

The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are resilient and resourceful. We're going to stand with you for as long as it takes to recover and allow you to rebuild into the country, the past few days of Hurricane IDA and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here.


BIDEN: We need to do us must better prepare. We need to act on kindness returns this month. I'm going to press further action on my "Build Back Better Plan" that's going to make historic investments in, in electrical infrastructure, modernizing our roads, bridges, our water systems, sewer, and draining systems, electric grids and transmission lines and make them more resilient to the super storms and wildfires and floods that are going to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity.

We're reminded that this isn't about politics; Hurricane IDA didn't care if you were a Democrat or Republican, rural or urban its destruction is everywhere. It's a matter of life and death. And we're all in this together. This is one of the great challenges of our time.

But I'm confident we'll meet it with the United States of America. And there's simply nothing you've heard me say before, nothing beyond our capacity to work together. So for all those who are still in harm's way of all those struggling to deal with the aftermath of these storms and fires, say God bless you.

Keep the faith, every working day and night to look out for their fellow Americans is what this is about. We're going to get this done. Thank you.


BOLDUAN: All right. We've been listening to President Biden right there wrapping up remarks about the historic weather event we're seeing really across the country from the Gulf Coast, to the northeast, and even the fires out west.

The flooding that you're seeing on your screen from WPVI in the Philadelphia area is just unbelievable, as well as what we've been watching play out for days now. In Louisiana, with so many people without power and blistering heat after Hurricane IDA hit. We're covering all of this for you this hour.

Let me start with CNN's Pete Muntean. He's just on the ground in Philadelphia with very latest there. Pete, what are you seeing?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is this Schuylkill River behind us you can see the rushing water and just how powerful it is here. The flood warning from the National Weather Service stays in effect here in the Philadelphia area until seven o'clock tomorrow morning.

So we are just at the beginning of the end. In fact, the weather service doesn't anticipate the river to crest here until only the next few hours, maybe between 16 and 19 feet above flood stage numbers that have not been seen since 1869.

In fact, Former Governor Ed Rendell was on with you earlier. And he said he's not seen flooding like this since after the blizzard of 96 a very, very different weather phenomenon. The issue here, according to Governor Tom Wolf, is that so much rain fell so quickly in this area. And now it is impacting the Philadelphia region and beyond.

You can see down here, this is the Schuylkill River going towards Center City and 30th Street. You can see how high the water is near that bridge there? Down that direction is 76 and 276 those are two major crossroads of the Pennsylvania Turnpike here in Philadelphia. And the issue there is that it's completely flooded.

There is a pumping station there but that is also underwater. According to Governor Tom Wolf's administration you know, a lot of really big problems here. Kate, the southeast Philadelphia and Southeast Pennsylvania suburbs became so overloaded that according to Governor Wolf's administration, in a press conference just moments ago, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the suburbs to the northwest, experienced 500 calls for water rescues just last night.

The water is receding a bit north to south, but we will see here. It's still supposed to crest later on this afternoon and a lot of issues still playing out in this region and beyond.

BOLDUAN: And Pete I mean it's amazing to just see kind of the anger of the raging water behind you. You've got over you - I think you said you said 501 County for in terms of rescues in Philly. I think the fire chief said it was 100 rescues. They've been at it so far.

They've been at it for 15 hours. And they think that it's going to be another 10 to 12 before they're done. I mean they're very even though the rain has stopped falling, the danger and the threat is nowhere near over.

MUNTEAN: The images here are so incredible. The Vine Street Expressway, which is a huge thoroughfare through Philadelphia, you can walk right up to it right now it looks like a canal more than what a highway should look like right now.

You know this is playing out in so many places here. We've seen issues in Bridgeport to the Northwest near the King of Prussia Mall in Phoenixville also in that area, water rescues playing out there. So this is not quite done here. Even though it is a spectacularly beautiful day here in Philadelphia and this greater area, this flooding still persists.