Transcribed Remarks
Governor Haley Barbour and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran
MEMA Press Conference
August 31, 2005
3:30 PM CST

Senator Cochran: "I accepted the Governor's invitation to be here to try to answer any questions you have about federal programs and the efforts that we're making to acquaint the agencies with responsibilities about the devastation that hit our state. I remember after Hurricane Camille being down on the Gulf Coast and actually going to people's houses and seeing the terrible devastation of Hurricane Camille. I can say that this storm is so much greater in terms of the widespread devastation and destruction, that I was really shocked and I don't know anything that is more disturbing than going along the Gulf Coast area and being aware of all the damage between there and here*seeing trees down here at the state capitol as well. It's one of the most depressing things I've ever seen.

Now I've been talking with federal officials about the importance of responding as quickly and as generously as we can to make available the full range of resources of the federal government to the State of Mississippi to people who have been harmed and are suffering as a result of this devastation. I don't think there's any question, but what we will have is the support of other members of Congress. I've talked to Jerry Lewis, for example, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who has expressed interest in moving rapidly with an appropriations bill that the President requested. We've talked to White House officials who have assured us they will make a request at the appropriate time. Right now, the funds are there in the accounts for the agencies that have responsibilities to provide disaster and emergency assistance to do that. We've had the top officials of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, here and members of his staff here. They are actively engaged in carrying out their responsibilities. I'm impressed with the quality of the response that has been made by the Washington leadership, and I know that our congressional delegation is going to cooperate and move quickly, and I'm confident effectively, to be sure Mississippi is supported in this time of need and difficulty, and that we have every benefit to which our state is entitled as a result of this disastrous hurricane.

And again, I thank Governor Barbour for inviting me to join him and thank him and congratulate him for the work he's organized by the Mississippi state government officials and all of those who are actively involved. And there are many others*charitable organizations, others who are concerned and are willing to help and are helping. And we are very grateful for all of that, the sensitive and dedicated work that's going into helping Mississippi recover from this disaster."

Governor Haley Barbour: "Thank you Senator. Before we take questions, I would just make you aware that today I toured from Pearl River to Picayune, all the way up to Laurel. As we've talked about before, this is a calamity for the coast. As Senator Cochran observed, this is devastation for the coast more than anyone could imagine*it's literally indescribable. But this is more than a calamity for the coast*a lot of Mississippians got clobbered on Monday. In the area that I went, there is a tremendous amount of wind damage*trees down, timber down, wind damage to structures. And I have to say, particularly in Jones County, and I don't know why, but apparently a band coming off the hurricane caused some tornadoes in Jones County around 12:30-1:00 PM, before the worst hit. They believe the winds there were 110 mph*130 mph gusts, and they have so many residences that are damaged by trees*a very, very, very much higher percentage than anywhere else we saw. So I remind you all that this is just not about the coast. It's a lot bigger than the coast, and we're going to be dealing with very difficult problems inland and well up into Mississippi.

Let me reiterate what I said before to Senator Cochran. We've had great cooperation with the federal government. Everything we've asked for, they've done, and they've told us what to ask for that we didn't know to ask for. We appreciate also a number of states that have offered resources and we're receiving those resources as I speak.

I mentioned yesterday the search-and-rescue team from Florida and Ohio. We're receiving National Guard troops*2500 from Pennsylvania. People all over are helping. Alabama has made a very generous offer for people without housing in Mississippi. They're going to arrange it where people can stay in Alabama state parks while unable to return to their homes. So people have been great.

I'm like Senator Cochran*I don't think there is any sale that needs to be made that this*that the Fed. Gov. is going to step up to the plate here, because this is the worst natural disaster in the history of the country. I was gratified when I heard the President of the American Red Cross say that they intended to have the largest humanitarian drive in the history of the country. I think that was an appropriate response, and we're very grateful.

With that, let me stop and say that any of us will be glad to take any questions.

(Q&A)

Question: Governor, what's the status of the search-and-rescue*have they been able to get into all the areas of the coast?

Answer: They have not been able to get into every house, every structure. In fact, in some isolated, more rural areas, they have not even been able to get into those vicinities. But search and rescue is going on night and day, all over the coast. It's just the magnitude of the destruction*is that the search and rescue is very tedious, very slow. The inability to communicate means that you're not out trying to help somebody who has called in and said "I've got a problem."
It's every house, every structure*more accurately, every pile of debris. But it is going on all across the coast, and I believe and hope in Pearl River County as well.

Question: I heard search-and-rescue are up into the thousands. Is that true?

Answer: I think that's a point people miss. Search and rescue is still going on, but thousands of people have been rescued, have been found, have been given transportation, have been given a way to get to where they can find some help. Regrettably, we believe that there's going to be a lot of people who are not going to be survivors. But we can't quantify that very well right now, but clearly there is a significant loss of life that has resulted from this disaster.

Question: Is it true that Hancock County's hospital has been shut down?

Answer: Well, when I left here this morning, none of the hospitals had failed. None of the hospitals had had to close. Now*did that change?

Response from Mike Womack, Deputy Director of MEMA: Yes sir, but they were able to evacuate all of them out of Hancock County where they could provide better care.

Answer: Okay, so, where we have had to close a hospital, we have been able to move the patients. Every hospital in the three coastal counties*except perhaps Keesler*suffered such damage that they became non-operational or limited operations. They lost their electric power, had windows blown out*but none of them failed in the sense that they had a catastrophe there.

Question: I understand President Bush is coming to survey the coast Friday?

Answer: You know, governors don't announce the President's schedule. He can announce mine, if he wants to, but I don't announce his. So when the White House advances that, we'll know if it's true or not.

Question: Are you going to have to call the Legislature in, for anything*Special Session?

Answer: That's just*well, we're just not there yet. I mean, we got more urgent business. I do want to say that Speaker McCoy and the Lieutenant Governor have both been great, and supportive, and obviously every bit as concerned as I am, and I think when we get a good handle on what has to be done, what should be done, there is no question in my mind that it will be done and will be done in a bi-partisan, bi-cameral, and overwhelming basis.

Question: How are communications on the Gulf Coast? How are people to try to find out information about relatives and friends?

Answer: The issue of communications on the coast that you asked the question about in regards of how you find out about a person*the problem is much bigger than that. Because there is no electricity and because all the cell towers are blown down, there is no communication unless you can communicate via satellite. So there are*the lack of communications is a huge problem. And to their credit, BellSouth, Cellular South, Alltel, all the communication/telecommunications companies, are just throwing every effort they can but*again, we've got a disaster here that simply overwhelms the system. But it's gonna be a little while coming back. I hope that's not the disaster alarm going off there (Alarm in background). But, since it might be, why don't we say that's the last question.

Thank y'all.


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Governor Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139 Jackson, MS 39205
Phone: 601.359.3150 Fax: 601.359.3741
         

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