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Q&A With U.S. Sen. John Kennedy On Hurricane Ida Destruction, FEMA Assistance, More

 NGS emergency response imagery shows damage to buildings and homes in Houma, Louisiana, following Hurricane Ida.
Courtesy of NOAA
NGS emergency response imagery shows damage to buildings and homes in Houma, Louisiana, following Hurricane Ida.

Days after the catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane Ida struck the Louisiana coastline Sunday, leaving behind a considerable amount of damage, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy went on a helicopter tour Wednesday to some of the areas devastated by the storm.

The Senator spoke to WRKF’s Karen Henderson about what he saw.

Senator, can you tell us what you saw?

I saw what I think we all know. We took it full on the face. I was able to see from the air that Port Fourchon, Grand Isle, Larose, Houma, Baton Rouge, home after home, structure after structure was either destroyed or knocked off its foundation. A lot of the smaller communities are still underwater. That's why, as we start our recovery, we can't forget that human life is still important and we've got to continue to do search and rescue. It's going to take a while to get to all these smaller areas.

And with that in mind, Senator, what are some of your biggest concerns to address the life that's at stake here?

We've got a lot of National Guard boots on the ground. We all understand that the most important things in life are not things. They're people. And we're going to make sure that everybody is safe first. But we can multitask and FEMA is here in Louisiana with a substantial presence. They know that people need electricity, but they need other things. They need cell service. People need to be able to check on their loved ones and their friends and their neighbors. They need gasoline. Supposedly, FEMA had tanker trucks on standby, waiting to come in to provide the gasoline that we needed. I'm hoping that by the end of the day, we’ll have made some progress there.

The White House contacted me the day before the storm hit, and I was on a conference call Monday with the president and with Governor Bel Edwards. President Biden has said we will get everything we need. We will receive all the resources we need. He put former Congressman Cedric Richmond in charge as the quarterback, which I think is a very prudent thing to do. Is this a point person to whom we can speak directly about the need? The delegation is working together to try to catalog those needs and make them clear to the president. He's made a commitment to it.

I don't want to forget southwest Louisiana. It's been a year since they were hit by a number of storms, and they need help to take care of some of their unmet needs. We are where we are and I think we're making progress, but it's going to be slow and never fast enough. Do the best you can.

Senator Bill Cassidy says that Hurricane Ida shows the need for infrastructure investment. What kinds of infrastructure projects do you think could help to mitigate some of the damage from storms like these?

I don't think the infrastructure bill, even if it had been implemented, would have made any difference whatsoever. There are no listed projects and the infrastructure bill, none. And all these projects that people listed that would be done in Louisiana are not in the bill. The infrastructure bill establishes a huge slush fund to be given to the Biden administration to hand out in ways that it sees fit. There's no guarantee Louisiana will receive that money. I just fail to understand how spending seven and a half billion dollars on building electric vehicle charging stations is going to help Louisiana right now.

Well, Senator, what could Congress do? What ideas do you have?

First, we got to meet people’s immediate needs, and I listed some of them: shelter, food, water, electricity, cell service. Now, I checked the Monday morning FEMA has plenty of money in their account, about 40 billion dollars. Those are the immediate needs. At some point, we're going to need help with unmet needs, primarily housing.

We generally address those kinds of needs in past natural disasters through a supplemental appropriations bill. I've tried twice on the Senate floor before Ida hit to pass legislation to meet some of those unmet needs in Lake Charles, for example. But I can't pass the bill without Democratic votes. The Democrats are not going to vote to provide the resources until President Biden tells them to. You've got to keep in mind that the executive branch is controlled by my Democratic friends and my Democratic friends are also in charge of the House and the Senate. If they don't vote for the resources, we won't get them.

So far, President Biden hasn't told them to vote for the resources, at least with respect to southwest Louisiana. If he said publicly and privately that he is going to provide those resources, then I would take him at his word and I would chase the White House like a hound from hell, until we get what we need.

Senator, how are you and yours doing following this storm?

I was going to shelter in place in Baton Rouge. I decided to go home for the night. Of course, the storm changed direction and we took it full on the face. I had some damage to my home, but nothing that I can't fix. I came to Baton Rouge the next day and we'll all get through this together.

Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

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