‘We need to act’: Biden says Ida a deadly reminder of climate crisis
WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden on Thursday said that "extreme storms" such as Hurricane Ida are a deadly reminder that the climate crisis is here and that the nation needs to act now to combat it.
"These extreme storms, and the climate crisis, are here," Biden said in a White House speech. "We must be better prepared. We need to act."
The president said he will further press Congress to pass his nearly $1 trillion infrastructure bill to improve roads, bridges, the electric grid and sewer systems. The proposal intends to ensure that the vital networks connecting cities and states and the country as a whole can withstand the flooding, whirlwinds and damage caused by increasingly dangerous weather. Biden stressed that the challenge transcends the politics of a deeply divided nation because of the threats posed by the storms and fires.
"It’s a matter of life and death and we’re all in this together," the president said.
RELATED: How to help victims of Hurricane Ida
Scientists say climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events — such as large tropical storms, and the droughts and heatwaves that create conditions for vast wildfires. U.S. weather officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded in 142 years of record-keeping.
Ida was the fifth-most powerful storm to strike the U.S. when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 150 mph, likely causing tens of billions of dollars in flood, wind and other damage, including to the electrical grid. The storm's remnants dropped devastating rainfall across parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, causing significant disruption to major population centers.
Biden pledged the support of the federal government to those devastated by Ida, which knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast and later spawned deadly flooding and tornadoes in the Northeast.
"My message to everyone affected is — we're all in this together. The nation is here to help," Biden said in a speech from the White House.
The president, who is set to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey some of the damage and meet with local and state leaders, said he has been receiving hourly updates on the storm and its aftermath.
The storm has killed more than 45 people in the Gulf and the Northeastern U.S.
As the scope of the disaster began to come into focus, a private firm estimated that total damage from Ida could exceed $50 billion — making it among the costliest U.S. hurricanes.
"We’ve been monitoring this devastation closely and the damage it’s caused," Biden said. "We are here for you, and we are making sure the response and the recovery are equitable."
The president directed those impacted by Ida to registering for federal disaster assistance by visiting disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1 (800) 621-FEMA.
Biden has held several conference calls with governors and local officials to discuss preparations and needs after the storm and has received briefings from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
FEMA had sent tons of supplies, including generators, tarps and other materials to the region before the storm, and federal response teams are working on search and rescue. The president said teams have used new tools to help speed the recovery, including the use of surveillance drones to assess Ida’s damage "while ensuring the flights don't disrupt aerial rescue missions."
Biden said the flooding in Louisiana was less than the region experienced during Hurricane Katrina, crediting federal investments in the area's levee system. "It held, it was strong, it worked," he said.
"We know that there is much to be done in this response on our part," Biden added. "We need to get power restored. We need to get more food, fuel and water deployed."
Remnants of Hurricane Ida later dumped devastating rainfall across parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, killing more than two dozen people and causing significant disruptions to transit systems.
At least two tornadoes were reported in the mid-Atlantic where homes were now rubble in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. Police in Connecticut were investigating a report of a person missing due to the flooding in Woodbury.
RELATED: New York flooding: Videos show cars submerged, water pouring into subway stations
While White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden "absolutely would not" visit Louisiana if his presence would take away from relief efforts, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards suggested the visit would be crucial for the president to understand the destruction by seeing the widespread damage for himself.
"There’s nothing quite like visiting in person," Edwards told reporters Wednesday following a briefing with local elected officials in Jefferson Parish, which took direct blows from Ida. "When you see it for yourself, it is just so much more compelling."
Biden said in his remarks that the Pentagon was also assisting with ongoing firefighting operations in California against the Caldor fire.
He said the crises, were "yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here."
"It’s a matter of life and death, and we’re all in it together," he added.
Biden's trip Friday to New Orleans will cap a difficult stretch for the president, who oversaw the chaotic exit of the U.S. military from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. Thirteen U.S. service members were killed while helping evacuate more than 120,000 Americans, Afghan allies and others fleeing the country following the Taliban's takeover.
As Ida made landfall on Sunday, Biden was at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of the remains of the 13 U.S. servicemen and women who were killed in a suicide bombing last week at Afghanistan's airport in Kabul, where the evacuations were taking place.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. It was reported from Cincinnati and Los Angeles.