Entries in Hurricane Irene (14)


Obama Has Declared Record-Breaking 89 Disasters in 2011

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- From Hurricane Irene, which soaked the entire East Coast in August, to the Midwest tornadoes, which wrought havoc from Wisconsin to Texas, 2011 has seen more billion-dollar natural disasters than any year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

And as America’s hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires set records this year, so too has President Obama in his response to them.

During the first 10 months of this year President Obama declared 89 major disasters, more than the record 81 declarations that he made in all of 2010.

And Obama has declared more disasters -- 229 -- in the first three years of his presidency than almost any other president signed in their full four-year terms. Only President George W. Bush declared more, having signed 238 disaster declarations in his second term, from 2005 to 2009.

But while the sheer number of bad weather events played a big role in the uptick in presidential disaster declarations, Obama’s record-setting year may have something to do with politics as well.

“There’s no question about it that the increase in the number of disaster declarations is outstripping what we would expect to see, given what we observe in terms of weather,” said Robert Hartwig, the president and economist at the Insurance Information Institute. “There’s a lot of political pressure on the president and Congress to show they are responsive to these sorts of disasters that occur.”

While the president aimed to authorize swift and sweeping aid to disaster victims, Congress was entrenched in partisan battles over how to foot the bill. When Republicans demanded that additional appropriations for a cash-strapped Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) be offset by spending cuts, the government was almost shut down over disaster relief funding.

Such budget showdowns have become commonplace in Congress, but a similarly slow response to natural disasters by the president has been met with far more pointed and politically damaging criticism.  Former President Bush learned that the hard way after what was seen as a botched initial response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

Mark Merritt, who served as deputy chief of staff at FEMA during the Clinton Administration, said Obama’s record-breaking number of declarations has less to do with politics and more to do with demographics.
People are moving to high-risk areas like beaches and flood plains, more bad weather events are occurring and the country’s infrastructure is “crumbling,” he claimed.

Politics aside, Obama’s higher-than-ever number of disaster declarations may also have a lot to do with the broad scale of this year’s disasters, which led to more declarations of catastrophes because each state affected by the disaster gets its own declaration.

For example, Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992, cost upwards of $40 billion in damage, but resulted in only one disaster declaration because the damage was almost entirely confined to one state.

Hurricane Irene, on the other hand, pummeled much of the East Coast this summer, causing the president to make 9 disaster declarations, one for each state affected. Although there were 8 more declarations for Irene than for Andrew, the Irene caused about $7 billion in damage, a fraction of the damage caused by Andrew (up to $42 billion in today’s dollars).

Each presidential disaster declaration makes the federal government -- specifically FEMA -- responsible for at least 75 percent of the recovery costs, relieving cash-strapped state and local governments of the billions in damages caused by this year’s hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama on Hurricane Irene Recovery: 'Everybody's Working Hard'

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images(NEWARK, N.J.) -- President Obama was in New Jersey Sunday to take his first tour of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, a week after the storm pounded the East Coast with heavy rain and winds.

He flew into Newark where he was greeted by Gov. Chris Christie and Senators Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, and then traveled by motorcade to see Paterson and Wayne— two cities hit hard by the flooding.

Christie, who is leading the tour of the damage, has at times criticized Obama for not showing decisive enough leadership, but he had nothing but praise for the president's handling of Hurricane Irene.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One that they chose Paterson because it's a place the president could visit that was severely affected by the storm.

In Wayne, where homes are still flooded and the streets are littered with water-damaged debris, he walked through the shattered neighborhoods, speaking to people and offering hope and comfort.

"Everybody's going to be working hard to help you recover," Obama told one woman.

Paterson, the state's third largest city, was flooded when the Passaic River reached its highest level in more than a century, forcing more than 6,000 people to evacuate.

Last week, Obama declared 16 New Jersey counties major disaster areas, freeing up federal dollars for recovery efforts. On his tour Sunday, he was joined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and Lisa Jackson, from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The cost of the damage has not yet been tallied in New Jersey, but is expected to reach billions of dollars.

The White House has requested additional money to help pay for disaster relief throughout the region affected by the storm, but that funding could get caught up in the partisan budget battle, as Republicans in Congress insist on balancing any additional FEMA funding with equal spending cuts. FEMA says it has less than $800 million in its bank account.

Carney lashed out at the partisan bickering that could hold up relief for the dozens of towns and cities suffering after Irene.

"When disaster strikes, Americans suffer, not Democrats, not independents, not Republicans," he said. "Americans suffer, and then we come together and put politics aside to make sure that those Americans get the assistance that they need."

The presidential visit to Paterson comes as officials keep an eye on another major storm pounding the South, parts of which are still recovering from devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Tropical Storm Lee is unleashing heavy rain and wind on Gulf Coast states. Carney said the administration is concerned about what "has been and will be a significant amount of rainfall."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FEMA Funding: Napolitano Warns Against ‘Political Gridlock’

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Could federal disaster relief become the next battleground over the federal deficit?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said over the weekend that because of the string of natural disasters in the past year, its disaster relief fund had dwindled to about $900 million.  The agency said it might have to restrict recovery spending for other, recent natural disasters if Congress did not approve additional funds — a stark warning after the estimated multibillion dollars in damage caused by Hurricane Irene.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday urged Congress to avoid “political gridlock” and move quickly to approve more federal disaster funding in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

Political gridlock “should not be the first concern of the Congress,” Napolitano said. “I think the first concern of the Congress is what do we need to protect the health and safety of the people that we’re all privileged to represent. Congress knows that this is historically the way disaster relief has been funded.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Republicans would approve more disaster relief only if spending cuts were made elsewhere in the federal budget to make up the difference. Napolitano and others fear that disaster relief could become the latest political football in the emotionally-charged debate over the federal deficit.

“At the beginning of the fiscal year, they don’t give you a crystal ball,” Napolitano told reporters Tuesday. “So the way they do the [Disaster Relief Fund] is they get the three-year rolling average. And then if you need more, then at the end of the year there’s a supplemental” bill passed by Congress and money is held up until more funding is provided.  She said Congress should continue to play by the established rules.

While calling for more funding, Napolitano said it was too early to tell just how much Hurricane Irene was going to cost.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rush Limbaugh: White House Wanted Hurricane Irene to Be Much Worse

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Was Hurricane Irene a “national embarrassment?”

That’s what conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh is claiming.

Limbaugh went on a tirade Monday to complain that the storm was “politicized” to provide a boost to President Obama’s reelection chances in 2012.

According to the right-wing pundit, the White House and the national media were both hoping that Irene would cause far more death and destruction than what actually occurred.  A huge disaster would have revived Obama’s political fortunes, Limbaugh said, not to mention help prove climate change theory touted by the administration and the media.

Limbaugh mused, “It was a lesson, if you pay any attention to this, the hype, the desire for chaos, I mean literally, the media desire for chaos was a great learning tool, this was a great illustration of how all of the rest of the media in news, in sports, has templates and narratives and exaggerates beyond reality, creating fear so as to create interest.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rep. Keating Says Americans Should be Grateful for Irene Preparation

Keating [dot] House [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- The Northeast is just beginning to recover from its tangle with Hurricane Irene and Rep. Bill Keating is the perfect subject for an assessment.

He’s the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security subcommittee for oversight and he was on the coast at his home in Monument Beach, Massachusetts when the storm hit.

Monument Beach and the surrounding area saw some of the biggest water surges during the hurricane.  The Congressman’s house lost power and internet connection on Sunday, though power was back up on Monday.  According to his spokesperson, one of the most dangerous things was an unanchored sail boat that was being tossed around in the water during the storm.

But Keating told ABC’s Top Line Monday that “preparation was excellent” and for that people should be grateful.

Keating, who said he has spent the day talking to local merchants, praised President Obama’s declaration of a state of emergency in Massachusetts, 12 other states, the District of Colombia and Puerto Rico.

“The big thing, this cash -- cash style really cities and towns and local business people are affected by this.  So I think the preparation was looked at very gratefully but you know people are still overcoming as I am being without power, sitting at your home, there are 700,000 people across Massachusetts and millions across the eastern part of the country,” Keating said.

More than 4.5 million people along the East Coast were without power Monday.  In addition, Irene is blamed for the deaths of at least 40 people.

But for now, Keating said people are “looking at the response from a personal term, and I can feel what it's like to be without power myself.  And be grateful at the same time that people weren't hurt or seriously injured.”

He later added: “I'm just happy that no one was hurt in my community, no one was hurt here.  Unfortunately we can't say that for every community.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bachmann: Hurricane Is God's Warning to Washington

Win McNamee/Getty Images(SARASOTA, Fla.) -- As Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast this weekend, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said the storm and last week's earthquake were God's way of trying to get politicians in Washington to deal with soaring federal deficits.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending," Bachmann said in Sarasota on Sunday, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

On Monday, Bachmann's campaign spokesperson Alice Stewart said the Minnesota congresswoman was just joking.

"Of course she was saying it in jest," Stewart wrote in an email to ABC News.

In a 2005 ABC News poll, after Hurricane Katrina, 23 percent of those surveyed -- nearly one in four -- said they saw recent hurricanes as deliberate acts of God. Of them, about half said they thought Katrina was intended as "a warning." About one in three evangelical Protestants in the poll said they thought Katrina was a deliberate act of God.

The poll was conducted after an Alabama state senator described Hurricane Katrina as God's punishment for "gambling, sin and wickedness."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


After Hurricane Irene, Obama to Spend Day in White House Meetings

The White House/Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- After spending the weekend bracing for Hurricane Irene, President Obama will return to a schedule of closed-door meetings at the White House Monday.

The president will, however, take a moment to make an on-camera appearance at 11 a.m., when he is expected to announce his intent to nominate Alan Krueger to lead the Council of Economic Advisers.

Obama spent the weekend meeting with his emergency response team and preparing for the storm, which was ultimately weaker than expected.  Having learned from disasters of the past, the president made the case Sunday that his administration was well-prepared for Irene.

"This has been an exemplary effort of how good government, at every level, should be responsive to people’s needs, work to keep them safe, and protect and promote the nation’s prosperity,” Obama said in a Rose Garden statement.

The president also offered his condolences to the families of victims whose lives were claimed by the storm.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who’ve lost loved ones and those whose lives have been affected by the storm.  You need to know that America will be with you in your hour of need," he said.

Now that the storm has passed, Obama will meet with his senior advisors Monday morning and will have a private lunch with Vice President Joe Biden.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama on Irene: 'This is Not Over'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As a weakened but still dangerous Tropical Strom Irene pushes up the East Coast, President Obama urged Americans to remain vigilant.
“I want people to understand that this is not over,” Obama said in a statement delivered Sunday afternoon in the Rose Garden.
“Though the storm has weakened as it’s moved north, it remains a dangerous storm that continues to produce heavy rains,” he added.
The president expressed his condolences to the families of the victims claimed by the deadly weather.  “Our thoughts and prayers are with those who’ve lost loved ones and those whose lives have been affected by the storm. You need to know that American will be with you in your hour of need.”
The federal government remains concerned about the possibility of significant flooding and widespread power outages because of reports that have come in from state and local officials, the president said. “Many Americans are still a serious risk of power outages and flooding which could get worse in the coming days as rivers swell past their banks.”
Obama asked that Americans listen and follow the guidance of state and local governments. He also stressed that even after the storm ends, the clean up could take a while. “I do wanna underscore that the impacts of this storm will be felt for some time, and the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer.“
Over the weekend, Obama has made the case that the government has done a good job preparing and responding to Irene, hoping to show that his government has learned lessons from the poorly handed emergency responses in the past. He did so again in his Rose Garden remarks, saying that emergency responders’ good work has saved lives.
“This has been an exemplary effort of how good government, at every level, should be responsive to people’s needs, work to keep them safe, and protect and promote the nation’s  prosperity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Engaged in FEMA Response to Irene

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has received regular briefings about Hurricane Irene's impact. During the wet and windy weekend in Washington, senior advisors and cabinet officials have updated the president on the response and recovery effort taking place along the East Coast of the United States and in U.S. territories.

Sunday morning, Obama convened a video teleconference in the White House Situation Room and plans to reconvene with his team managing the federal government's response Sunday night.

Overnight, Mr. Obama declared a State of Emergency in Delaware and Washington, DC.  Late Saturday, Obama also declared an emergency in Puerto Rico. Emergency orders for federal aid to help state and local responders had already been issued in nine states.

In the Sunday morning teleconference, the president met with Vice President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administration Craig Fugate, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Visits FEMA’s Hurricane Response Center

Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- As Hurricane Irene’s Category 1-force winds pounded the coast of North Carolina Saturday, President Obama visited FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. 

After touring the facility, Obama told the workers there that they are doing a great job.

FEMA officials are coordinating a response to the storm with federal, state, local and private sector groups at the national command center.  FEMA has also convened daily video teleconference with states threatened by Hurricane Irene at the center that the president toured. 

Obama has declared a state of emergency in eight states so far. The move authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to provide direct assistance to the East Coast states along Irene’s projected path. 

As the storm moves up the East Coast, Obama said he wants emergency responders to keep him updated about developments.  On a conference call this morning, Obama received the latest information about Irene’s intensity, its track and the response and recovery effort from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.  The White House says the president wants fresh updates throughout the day and overnight. 

On Friday, Obama urged Americans living along the Hurricane Irene’s projected path to take the storm seriously.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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