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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Governor Jeb Bush Holds Press Conference on Hurricane Frances

Aired September 4, 2004 - 09:06   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CRAIG FUGATE, FLORIDA DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Good morning, everybody. It's Saturday. Hurricane Frances is still coming to Florida. Hurricane warnings are up. And we're now starting to see some of the stronger winds start approaching the coast.
Today it's very important that over the last several days, we've talked about evacuations. Roads are quiet. People have moved out of these areas. What few residents are still in those areas is -- you still have time. But really, the focus today's going to be about safety.

As this storm comes in, it's going to be important that people stay in their homes, stay off the highways. This storm is still packing a lot of punch. There's going to be a lot of wind and rain. And it's going to be over hours that this storm's going to be impacting the coast.

So again, we really want to focus on safety. That's our message for the day. And with that, I'd like to introduce Governor Bush, governor of the state of Florida.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Craig.

And Craig's admonition is really important that because of the slow-moving nature of the storm, I know that people that have done what we've asked them to do, which is to be prepared, have been waiting and waiting. And now the storm, as it approaches, I hope that they will with patience ride this storm out.

It will take a long time for it. We are already seeing the beginnings, effects of the storm. The eye of the storm won't hit for -- till later on tonight, and then we'll have tomorrow as well. So people need to be very cautious and very patient with this storm.

In addition, if they're in a shelter, they need to talk to the American Red Cross volunteers before they go home. As we all know, some of the loss of life occurs after the storm, and there'll be a lot of rain, a lot of utility poles down, a lot of wires in that water. Make sure that your children and you yourself do not go back to your homes, or don't leave your homes, until it is the proper time to do so.

I want to tell you that we are ready to respond to the storm once it has passed the impacted areas. And that response will be massive. Director Brown of FEMA is here, and I appreciate the great cooperation we have gotten from FEMA.

The coordination is something that makes it easier for me to say that once this storm has passed, there are -- there's all sorts of assets that will be on the ground in the impacted areas to provide relief, including, for example, facilities that are staged right now to bring a million meals a day to Floridians. There are 600 trucks of water, 237 trucks of ice, all of which is staged safely and ready to go to the impacted areas.

We are -- we know that this storm, in spite of the fact that it has weakened in terms of the hurricane-force winds, will do damage to a lot of places. If you see this map, this is a map of the convergence of both Charley and Frances, with, obviously, Charley coming across and Frances. This is the latest estimate of where the impact will be. These are hurricane-force winds that will go all the way through central Florida.

But just as important, tropical-force winds and inches and inches of rainfall are going to impact the areas that have already been devastated by Hurricane Charley.

So my commitment, and I know that Mike will reinforce this, is that we need resources not only to tend to the folks that weren't impacted by Charley, but we're not going to divert one penny or one ounce of energy for the folks that are still recovering from a devastating storm of three weeks and a day ago.

And so there's a lot of work to afterwards. And I think that we have a federal partner called FEMA, and all the agencies of the federal government that have been with us from the get-go.

Director Brown is here. And I just appreciate the fact that you've been on the ground and you've been working hard on behalf of the citizens that I love and care for. So with that, director?

MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Thank you, governor.

I want to reiterate something the governor talked about, and that is the danger of the storm. It kind of frustrates me that the media often talks about Hurricane Frances going from a category three to a category two, and leaves the impression that maybe the storm's not as dangerous as it could have been.

That may be true, but put it in perspective. You still have 105- mile-an-hour winds right now that have now spread out 105 miles from the center of the hurricane. That is a massive storm. Unlike Charley, this storm has an awful lot of moisture with it. We have found traditionally in hurricanes that most deaths come from inland flooding. This could be a very significant flooding event.

So people need to remain cautious, they need to remain vigilant about this particular hurricane.

FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are bringing in literally thousands of assets to respond to Hurricane Frances. Two of the most important things that we're doing are to focus on life- sustaining and livesaving efforts.

We're going to have our urban search and rescue teams, and I've already activated four of those teams, and we'll activate more if needed to come in and actually do the life -- the rescue and the search efforts to find victims. Those are the same teams that responded to the World Trade Centers on 9/11.

In addition, we'll have new national disaster and medical system teams in here to treat patients. In Hurricane Charley, we treated well over 2,000 patients. I expect we'll be treating even more patients from Hurricane Frances.

The last thing I would say is, I would caution Floridians, and particularly those who've evacuated, to be patient. It's going to take some time if this storm dumps as much water as I expect it to and causes as much flooding as I expect it to. It's going to take some time before the first responders and those national assets can move back in behind Frances and start doing those rescue and response efforts.

So people need to be patient. Don't rush back into your communities, don't rush back into your homes. As I've seen all over the country, flood waters are incredibly powerful phenomena. If you didn't take physics in high school, you need to recognize that this water can pick up SUVs and move it hundreds of feet. You cannot fight those waters. They're killers. So you need to be very patient and very careful about the flood waters that are going to occur because of Hurricane Frances.

And finally, the governor talked about the partnership. Craig Fugate gave me a tour. We talked about how the state's emergency operations center is set up. I -- Craig, I intend to take this as a model across the entire United States. The way we have put together the incident command structure here between the state and federal government to make certain that our resource requirements are coordinated and put where they need to be is probably the best that I've seen in my four years at FEMA.

I told President Bush last night on the telephone that we've got to take this model and use it all over the country. This is the way to respond to disasters.

BUSH: Thank you, Mike.

Just one final point that I want to emphasize this. I was watching one of the network morning shows this morning, and some guy had his -- I hope it wasn't a reporter -- some guy was out in the midst of Charley at -- appeared to be Charlotte County, describing this storm, as things were flying right by his head. And, you know, what we want to -- there are people that are going to be in harm's way. And as was the case of Charley, God forbid, there may be people that lose their lives.

What we don't want to have is people lose their lives because of just abject stupidity. And so please take this storm seriously, and stay out of harm's way until the storm passes, and then don't go back to your homes or don't leave your homes until it is appropriate to do so.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE), we'd be happy to answer any questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you're not (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right here, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). (UNINTELLIGIBLE), lot of people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) flood insurance, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What help is available for people who don't have flood insurance?

BUSH: Well, thankfully, Director Brown is here to answer that question.

BROWN: Our temporary -- our housing programs will go into effect, and we will be able to put those folks in temporary housing and do rental assistance or whatever we need to do to get them in housing. So we will take care of that.

But since you've asked the question, don't let me pass up the opportunity to talk about flood insurance. It is absolutely critical. Now, of course, today it's too late to apply, because it takes 30 days for flood insurance to take effect. But to everyone in Florida, I would certainly encourage you to apply and get that flood insurance as rapidly as possible.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, that's FEMA director Mike Brown, along with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, cautioning everyone to be cautious and ride this storm out with some patience, as it is a slow- moving storm. They have a million meals a day ready. And we will continue to listen in, if any new developments come out of that news conference.

Apparently we're going to go back right now.

BROWN: ... have the obviously great advantages of flood insurance, they're going to be able to get them rebuilt and back up quickly. They'll be able to get them loans and that sort of thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, you talked briefly yesterday about the gas situation. Apparently there's a lot of anger today in central Florida that there is apparently a pretty widespread gas shortage, and knowing that gas may be coming or will be coming at some point after the storm, has it been enough to allay some of that frustration? Can you speak to that issue?

BUSH: Look, if -- people shouldn't be driving around a lot to begin with now. If they haven't evacuated, they need to be close to home, number one. Number two, we had what might end up being, once it's analyzed, the largest evacuation, at least in our state's history, over the last two days. And as -- because this storm was slow moving, a lot of our inventory of gasoline comes by ship into our ports, and because -- you know, the ships aren't allowed to travel into the kind of storms that are like Frances.

So there's going to be a low inventory of gasoline.

Now, having said that, we have worked really hard over the last 48 hours to make sure that some of the shortage was replenished. And that's already happened prior to the storm ending. Secondly, all of the emergency vehicles are -- and all of the first responders to this storm, which is our first priority at the state level, will have enough gasoline to be able to do their jobs.

And, thirdly, we have in place the logistics to be able to get the inventories replenished as quickly as possible. One of the first things that will happen, though -- and while people are angry, I, you know, I hope that if they're going to be angry, let them get angry at me. And in return, I ask that they be patient. I'll do is that deal in a heartbeat, because there's going to be a lot of lack of electricity as well. And a gas station doesn't work unless you have generators, without electricity.

So, you know, this is going to be a tough ride for us over the next few days. And it is hard for people that have already gone through Charley to then have to go through Frances. I fully appreciate why they're going to be angry. Just -- I hope that that anger doesn't play out in a way that makes them impatient and then puts them in harm's way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quick follow-up to that, governor. Is that something, is the shortage something that should have been anticipated, and is that something with this result that you will look at in the future for future storms?

BUSH: I really can't answer that question. If there are ways to improve what we've done -- which I'm very proud of, I might add -- then we will do it. Every storm is different. Every circumstance is unique. We learn from all of these experiences. And I'm not going to stubbornly say here, no, everything is perfect, because it isn't.

We're -- but I do believe if you look at the Florida response and the FEMA response to these storms, Floridians can be proud about how dedicated public servants and a whole lot of private volunteers are working together in a well-organized way to protect people and help them after the storm ends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could we get a general update on the velocity of this storm now, where it is, where you think it might be going? I know it keeps changing. Where are we now?

BUSH: Ben, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, governor. Right now, we have Hurricane Frances as a category two hurricane moving very slowly off our state's east coast. It's currently located only about 100 miles to the east of West Palm Beach, moving towards the west-northwest at only six miles per hour.

That is going to produce sustained hurricane-force winds for up to and maybe even a few hours over the 12-hour period later on tonight, beginning this afternoon and continuing through tonight along the coastal counties where we're expecting impact. That's generally between West Palm Beach and Cape Canaveral.

The storm is going to slowly move across the state during the late-night hours tonight and especially during the day tomorrow. We're going to see copious amounts of rainfall. And as the storm moves back over the Gulf of Mexico, it's expected to maintain tropical storm strength, and could impact the panhandle as we move on into the day on Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, what's your best advice to people who are affected by Charley already and they may be hit again? What's the first thing they should do? What should they be looking for?

BUSH: Well, if they're in structures that are unstable because of the effects of Hurricane Charley, they -- I believe many have done this. They need to go to safer housing. And they need to know that not one penny of resource or one ounce of energy is going to be diverted from the rebuilding efforts that has begun in southwest Florida and in central Florida.

So this is a real challenge. That map says it all, if you're -- you know, if you -- this is, you know, perfect storm analogies, perhaps, during hurricanes aren't appropriate. But if you were going to say, Well, here's the challenge, three weeks, we're going to have a huge storm hit crossing one way and another huge storm crossing another three weeks later. How are you going to organize yourselves? And how, as Floridians, are we going to respond to this challenge?

This is a huge challenge. And most impacted are the people that you're describing, which are -- may be in houses that have roofs that are damaged, or maybe are in shelters still because FEMA began the process of putting modular houses and trailers in -- on pads. And then they had to pull back, because this storm was coming.

So I guess I -- what I'm saying is that the recovery part of this has been deferred -- it hasn't -- it won't be delayed -- that the resources will be coming in to provide support once this storm passes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So they don't need to fill out paperwork again? Or would they have to fill out more?

BUSH: No, I mean, their support will be here. Now, if there's additional damage -- maybe I could ask -- I'll ask Mike to answer that question about how the double whammy happens.

BROWN: What they'll need to do is, if they have additional damage, is to re -- is to call the 800 number again, and just update their file, so that we know what additional damage they've suffered. So if they call the 800-621-FEMA number after they get back into their homes and really get a good picture of what's occurred, then we can put that information in and get them started on the road to recovery again.

I would emphasize again what the governor said. FEMA is not going to take away at all from what we've been doing in terms of recovery of Hurricane Charley. We will respond to Frances and continue to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to do the recovery from Charley. We will bring in additional teams.

So if I had 1,500 to 3,000 people, you know, last weekend doing that sort of thing, this coming next few days I'll double that number if I have to do that. We'll get whatever number of personnel in here we need to do both Charley and Frances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any assessment from local emergency offices or from local law enforcement on how many people have left those low-lying barrier islands or mobile homes? Any sense of how much the compliance has been? I mean, obviously, a lot of people were on the roads.

BUSH: I don't think there's -- other than anecdotal evidence that, pictures yesterday of roads like I-95 and I-75 that had very little traffic on it heading northbound after, you know, after the morning, was pretty good evidence that people planned for this appropriately. And if you look at the pictures of the coastal communities where the barrier islands -- where people were asked to evacuate, there's not a lot of people on them.

So those are -- that's only anecdotal evidence. But it appears that people really did respond to the challenge. A lot of the shelters are full in the communities impacted. So from that perspective, I guess there will be a chance to analyze all of this afterwards. It appears that people took this storm very seriously, which is good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Commissioner Bronson...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... what kind of reassurances, commissioner, can you offer people in the ag industry who are potentially facing hundreds of millions of additional damage on top -- what sort of resources will be available to them, and what are your biggest concerns right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, of course, as you know, we're going to have some, just like those who are going to have their homes under fire again from another storm, they're going to get hit twice. Especially central Florida now is going to get hit twice. And what didn't get hurt the last time probably will get some effects this time.

The question is, how sustained will the winds be, for what period of time. If you've got -- even if you have 50-mile-an-hour winds sustained over eight to 10 hours, the damage will probably be just as bad if you had higher winds at a short period of time, just because of that constant damage to citrus and other things.

We're very worried right now about the rainfall that's projected, simply because we've had a number of weeks now with a lot of rain already on the ground. The soil has been loosened. The trees are going to start come over at a greater rate.

And we've got cattle, horses, and a lot of wildlife that are going to try to get to high ground during these storm surges and a lot of rainfall. Some of them are going to get trapped -- this happened the last time we had a major event like this -- trying to get to high ground, and we may lose some animals. There's not a lot that the animal industry people can do. The cattle people are probably moving their cattle to higher ground.

But as you know, in central Florida, unless it's an anthill, there's not much high ground in central Florida. So they're going to be trapped to some degree. But cattle are very resourceful. If you remember, we only lost 12 head of cattle in the last storm just a few weeks ago. They're very resourceful, and they will go to high ground, as will horses. So we're in hopes that this will be a less event than we are looking at or have been told it might be.

But we're prepared. And animal industry, Dr. Holt, our state veterinarian, are working with the animal people right now trying to make sure they're going to get the veterinary services and other things right after this storm, just like the human population is going to get their medical services right after the storm.

So we're doing everything we can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question.

BUSH: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- let me add one other thing, because the commissioner and I are working with our congressional delegation and with OMB -- whatever that stands for -- the budget guys in the White House -- to -- for the president's supplemental budget requests. It may be more than one.

Through that process, we will seek support for crop damage, for tree damage, for the fruit and vegetable industry, for citrus as well as the nursery industry, and other impacts that may become known in the last -- in the next few -- in the next week because of Frances.

And I would also add that we -- I have, and I know the commissioner has a particular concern about farm worker housing, because this is a huge industry for our state. And if people don't have housing, they won't have workers. And if they don't have workers, we don't have agriculture. So we have a unique concern in that regard, and we'll be working with our national government in that regard to seek funding for expansion of farm worker housing as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, are you concerned that now that it's a category two, people might kind of take their guard down a little bit? And then also, you know, as we saw with Charley, these storms can change very quickly in -- on -- across the board.

BUSH: Absolutely. I'm, you know, I, like a lot of Floridians now, are becoming -- we're still amateurs, but we know more about storms than we ever imagined. And one of the things said last night -- and Ben, correct me if I am wrong -- but the slower the storm, the more it might vary. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and this continues to be a slow-moving storm, at least until it hits landfall.

And secondly, this is a huge storm. So it has impacts -- tropical-force winds, for anybody that has gone through them, are a big darn deal. I mean, it's not -- I do have a concern that the focus is so much on 145-mile-an-hour winds that somehow 70-mile-an-hour winds seem like, well, it's half that. You know, it's half a category four or category three.

And the fact is -- not that I ask you to do this -- but if you were in a -- go to a wind tunnel and stand up in 70-mile-an-hour winds and see what happens. So absolutely, tropical-force winds are a problem. And again, if you -- yellow's is the -- isn't yellow, the -- yellow and blue are tropical-force winds. Is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BUSH: So that's the whole state. I hope that puts it in perspective. And I appreciate you asking that ,question because it does give me concern that somehow we've calibrated this now, because we've been watching, you know, intensely for the last three days, that, wow, it's only going to be tropical-force winds. Well, don't go out in those either.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, guys.

BUSH: Thank you.

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