Tropical Storm Florence: FEMA Challenges

Sep 15, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been following Tropical Storm Florence as it continues to move through the Carolinas. Now that the hurricane-force winds have died down, the major threat comes from flooding and torrential rain. Joining us now is James Joseph. He is a regional administrator with FEMA - that's the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Joseph, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

JAMES JOSEPH: Thanks so much, Michel.

MARTIN: So I understand that you're based in D.C., so what are you hearing from your colleagues who are managing the response in the Carolinas? What are they focused on?

JOSEPH: I'm here right now in the National Response Coordination Center. This event is still in the response phase. The water is still flowing. It's still raining in many parts, and there's more flooding to come. So we're monitoring what's occurring in North Carolina with the ever-present reality that water will flow down to South Carolina and create some flooding issues there as well.

MARTIN: Can you just describe a little bit more what kind of damage or challenges they're dealing with? I mean, people who've been able to look at the pictures can see that the flooding in some areas is quite severe. Some of the people there don't seem to have been prepared for that, so there have been a lot of water rescues. Just fill in the picture for us. What other kinds of things are you dealing with?

MARTIN: We're seeing upwards of 950,000, 960,000 power outages in the area, so we have utilities that are impacted. We're also seeing a lot of debris on the roadway, and that comes from structural parts of buildings that have been taken down as a result of wind. And we can't forget, the ground was already saturated from heavy rains and so much rain in the last several weeks and also in the days leading up to this event that we're seeing some very large, some very old trees just completely uprooted. So we're seeing a lot of high-standing water in some areas where homes are being inundated on the first floor - in some places, even more than that - but also the threat of more rain that is to come.

MARTIN: The inevitable question - is or was FEMA prepared for this? And was this about what you expected?

JOSEPH: Yeah. I think from an expectation perspective as far as hurricane, it was a Category 4 for several days. It was building up speed, so we knew the direct hit was going to be there. Obviously, in weekend to a two and then a one. But we saw exactly what we were expecting from a storm surge perspective. And, based on all of those forecast models, FEMA was ready and continues to be ready.

MARTIN: So what is next? The rain is still continuing in some areas, but it's going to stop at some point. What's the next thing you're going to focus on after that?

JOSEPH: So we find ourselves still in the response phase. There's a number of state and local shelters that have been opened. There's well over at last count 20,000 individuals in a hundred-some shelters throughout North and South Carolina. And our focus right now is to ensure from the recovery perspective that we, in support of state and local emergency management officials, can help get those people back into their homes as quickly as possible.

I encourage everyone that's listening that may be impacted by this flooding event now not to re-enter your home until local officials say you can. They need to make sure that the power has been turned off in those areas, if there's any gas lines that are impacted that they're capped off. So follow the advice, the information of state and local officials. And our focus for now is recovery - helping individuals, helping the survivors of this disaster and helping the community get back up on their feet again.

MARTIN: That's James Joseph. He's a regional administrator with FEMA - that's the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Joseph, thanks so much for talking to us.

JOSEPH: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.