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FEMA Director Holds News Conference

Aired October 23, 2005 - 14:29   ET


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN ANCHOR: This just in. We want to take you now live out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where a news conference is under way.
DAVID PAULISON, FEMA DIRECTOR: ... tracking directly towards Florida. And we expect landfall to be sometime tomorrow morning, depended on the speed of the hurricane and what direction actually it takes.

I have to tell you, I have been extremely proud of my home state, Florida, what they've done to prepare for the storm. They've just done an outstanding job. The governor and the emergency manager have just done a wonderful job of getting that state ready and getting the citizens prepared for this storm.

So what I want to focus on right now is, is again, repeat some of the stuff that I did yesterday, and have done all week, is individual preparedness.

It is extremely important that those who are in an evacuation zone to evacuate immediately. They need to pay very close attention to the local officials that are calling for those evacuations, and if they're not in an evacuation zone and they're going to stay in their home, they need to make sure that they're prepared to ride a storm like this out.

Again, they need three days' supply of food, three days' supply of water, and water is usually a gallon per person a day, it will be sufficient for that. Make sure you have your medicines. The pharmacies are still open. Make sure that your car is fueled. Fueling stations are still open, and the state of Florida is reporting that they have well over 200 million gallons of fuel on hand, which is above their normal average, and so there's plenty of fuel out there. Make sure your car is fueled up.

You need a radio, a portable radio with extra batteries. You need flashlights with batteries, and all of those things you need that you're not going to be able to get at your home or get to a store for three days.

If you're going to evacuate, again make sure you take some important papers with you -- you want to take bank statements, your checkbooks, credit cards, birth certificates and particularly insurance information, so you can have that information with you to make -- to give your insurance company. And make sure that you know what evacuation route you're going to take, because time is running short. The storm is moving very quickly. So if you're told to evacuate, please move so very quickly. And if you do evacuate, please do not go back to your home until the officials tell you that it's ready for you, ready to return there.

There is already some significant flooding in South Florida. Broward County has got a lot of flooding already. Be careful out there. When you're driving through heavy water, try not to do that, especially in the evening when it's dark and you can't tell how badly the streets are flooded.

As always, most of our injuries come after a storm. We usually have very few during the storm. So the couple of things I want to point out. One is there is going to be a lot of downed power lines. Make sure you stay away from power lines. They can still be energized. Even though the electricity may be off in your house, some of those big power lines still have electricity in them, and every year, we always get somebody's electrocuted with those power lines.

Generators, I know a lot of people have generators out there, but it is a foreign object to a lot of people, and last year, we had several people that died from carbon monoxide poisoning by putting the generators in their house or in their garage. So if you have a generator, make sure you keep it well away from your house and at a well-ventilated area.

Also, we always have house fires from candles. We do not encourage people to use candles. We'd rather have you use flashlights. But if you do use candles, make sure you keep them away from anything that's flammable. And as always, we always have people with chainsaw injuries. They get chainsaws out there, they have not used one, and they end up cutting themselves or hurting themselves with chainsaws.

So things like that, you need to be careful of after the storm.

And also, I know we have a lot of special needs people in Florida. Most of those people are in shelters. But some may not be. So if you have a neighbor that's a special needs patient or an elderly person, please check on them, walk next door, make sure they're OK, check on them after the storm also to make sure everything is fine.

Again, I want to commend Florida for what they're doing. We have put some things in place that are going to help us have a better visibility. We have 15 teams of four members each that we're putting in all of those local emergency management centers in the impacted area, and they will be two state representatives and two people from the federal government. We're working side by side with Florida to make sure that we get clear visibility on what's going on and what's going on, on the ground.

And also, as soon as the winds die down, we are going to have community relations people on the ground, and they're going to be more than just community relations. They're going to become operational, where they're going to be reporting back to us and reporting back to the state what type of damage we have and what type of injuries we have. So several things are happening that are going to help us have a better communications. Everyone will have a satellite telephone, and also a regular cell phone, so we can get good information and good visibility on some of those issues.

That's kind of what I wanted to cover today. Again, personal preparedness, make sure you take care of yourselves and your family, and also, evacuate if you're told to do so.

What I'd like to do now is answer a few questions. Yes.

QUESTION: What is FEMA's biggest challenge? (INAUDIBLE) officials that Florida is prepared, but what are FEMA's biggest challenges at this point?

PAULISON: I think our biggest challenge is going to be to make sure that we're able to provide Florida the commodities that it needs and the people that it needs when they ask for assistance. We are trying to make sure we do that. I went off through the things we had on the ground yesterday with urban search and rescue teams. We have medical teams on the ground. We have hundreds and hundreds of truckloads of food and water and ice on the ground already. And our job is to make sure that when the state needs assistance, that we're there to provide it for them, and we need to do it as efficiently and quickly as possible.

And also, an important challenge for us too is to make sure that we are partnering with the state of Florida, and whatever state we're in, that our communication lines are open, and that there is no daylight between the FEMA representatives and the -- and the Florida representatives that are working the storm.

Any other questions? Yes.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). I was wondering if you know how many people have actually evacuated and (INAUDIBLE)?

PAULISON: I know that there are a lot of mandatory evacuations orders in place, and you'll see a lot of those people moving now. We knew today was going to be a busy day for evacuations. I do not have those numbers, but the state would have that, and the local community, because they're the ones who are actually in charge of the evacuations.


QUESTION: Yes, just following up on that, it seems like a lot of Keys residents are ignoring the evacuation orders. I'm wondering if you (INAUDIBLE)?

PAULISON: If anyone is remaining in the Florida Keys after the evacuation order is given, particularly the size of the storm and where it's headed, they are making a significant mistake. They need to evacuate. There are buses down there. I noticed that the Monroe County is providing buses to get people out. We do have helicopters. We have quite a few helicopters, but when people are told to evacuate, they need to evacuate, because it makes our job a lot easier, and we don't have to go and try to rescue them. But yes, we do have helicopters available.

QUESTION: OK, so you do feel like you have enough of those (ph)?

PAULISON: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: You feel like there will be enough helicopters.

PAULISON: Again, we don't want to plan on that. We do have helicopters available. We're asking people to evacuate, especially in the Florida Keys.

QUESTION: Can you put any numbers in terms of the number of FEMA personnel on the ground in Florida, and also the amount of money that you spent so far on Wilma, to get ready for it?

PAULISON: I don't have a handle on the amount of dollars. We have several hundred people on the ground, probably closer to 1,000 people in Florida. Most of those people were already there for the aftermath of some of the other storms -- Katrina, some others -- for the long-term recovery piece, but we have about 1,000 people on the ground in Florida.

QUESTION: In response to Julie's (ph) question, sir, you said that one of your biggest concerns is making sure the commodities are able to be delivered after the storm strikes. Do you have concerns that you haven't pre-positioned them in the right place?

PAULISON: No, no, not at all. In fact, we have -- I do believe we have pre-positioned them in the right place. Most of our commodities are either in Jacksonville or in Homestead Air Force base. So we have tried to get them both sides of the track of the storm. So to make sure that -- regardless of where that storm goes -- we can move those things in very quickly. And the state has, quite frankly, the state has a lot of commodities online, too, and already on the ground and ready.

So we're comfortable. We had a video conference briefing today from the state of Florida. They are very comfortable that we have plenty of commodities, plenty of food, plenty of water, plenty of ice on the ground to deliver as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Sir, I know the president was briefed yesterday. And have you been in touch with him today? And has he expressed any concerns today?

PAULISON: My briefings are to the secretary, and the secretary briefs the president. The secretary today was very comfortable with where we were, made some very good comments about the state's preparedness and also FEMA's preparedness, so I'm assuming he passes it along to the president.

QUESTION: What was the president briefed today? PAULISON: That I don't know. I know -- I can tell you that the president is very interested in this particular storm, and I cannot imagine him not being briefed by the secretary and asking questions.

QUESTION: Just to be clear on the number of FEMA people in Florida. You said most of the people there were already there.

PAULISON: We had ...


PAULISON: We still send a lot of people down there, ready, several hundred, but we already had quite a few on the ground already, and we're just utilizing those people that were already there also.

QUESTION: Several hundred would be extras then?

PAULISON: Right. That's correct, yes.

OK, thank you, folks. I appreciate your questions.

SYLVESTER: We've been listening to at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, acting director David Paulison, briefing the media on where things stand right now. He's urging Florida residents, those in the impacted area, to leave immediately. For the people who do decide to stay and try to ride out the storm, something he's not advising, he's suggesting that people have at least three days' supply of food, water and any necessary medicine. He says that he's confident that FEMA has pre-positioned enough supplies, enough commodities to deal with Hurricane Wilma.

We here at CNN will continue to track and monitor the storm and we will continue to bring you live updates.


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