St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana
By President Barack Obama
Well, good afternoon, everybody. I want to just say, first of all, how proud I am to be joined by Governor Jindal, Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator David Vitter, Representative Cedric Richmond. We’ve got Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom, and we’ve also got St. John the Baptist Sheriff Mike Tregre.
As you can see, there has been enormous devastation in St. John’s Parish, and that’s not the only place that’s been hard hit. We’ve also seen enormous damage in Plaquemines Parish and in other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.
I want to commend everybody who’s here for the extraordinary work that they’ve done in making sure that lives were saved, that although there was tremendous property damage, people were in a position to get out quickly. And, as you can see, folks are on the ground already clearing out the debris and making sure that they’re able to recover as rapidly as possible.
I want to particularly thank FEMA and the state and local authorities, because sometimes in the past we haven’t seen the kind of coordination that is necessary in response to these kinds of disasters. This time we’ve seen it. We made sure that we had the disaster declarations happen quickly so that we weren’t behind the eight ball. We’ve approved individual assistance for this area, which means that these folks, if they’ve suffered additional losses beyond what they’re insured for, that they are potentially eligible for some help. We’re going to be providing St. John’s the Baptist Parish with help in debris removal, in some of the other losses that have been suffered.
I particularly want to commend the sheriff and his team because they’ve been working around the clock saving lives. Some of the folks that we just walked by literally had to be saved by boat. They were in their homes, trapped. The waters came in so quickly. And this is an area that hadn’t been flooded in 17 years, so as a consequence, folks just weren’t anticipating and accustomed to the scale and scope of the destruction. But because of the great work of law enforcement, National Guard, Coast Guard, making sure that folks were out in rescue mode rapidly, even in some cases at risk of their own lives, no lives were lost.
Keep in mind that many of these folks who have been working so hard, they themselves suffered losses. So I’ve just been talking to the sheriff and his wife about the fact that they’re having to do — actually his wife is having to do exactly what these families are having to do while he’s on the job.
A couple of final points I want to make. Obviously, right now, we’re still in recovery mode, and that means that our biggest priority is helping to house people who have been displaced, making sure that they’ve got the resources they need to re-enroll their kids in school, make sure that they’re able to get to their jobs, make sure that they can have the kind of support that they need to get restarted. That’s in the short term. And I’m confident that with Craig Fugate and his team on the job, on the ground, that that’s going to happen in a seamless fashion.
But we’ve got a larger issue involved here, and that is how do we anticipate these storms and how do we make sure that an area like St. John’s is protected when you have these kinds of disasters. The good news is, is that the Army Corps levees that were built around New Orleans and Jefferson Parish and some of these other areas worked very well and they were done expeditiously.
And so what I’ve pledged to these folks is we’re going to make sure that at the federal level we are getting on the case very quickly about figuring out what exactly happened here, what can we do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and expediting some of the decisions that may need to be made to ensure that we’ve got the infrastructure in place to protect people’s property and to protect people’s lives.
So the final point I’ll make is, one thing you know about folks in Louisiana, they are resilient. People in Mississippi, they are resilient. They know what tough times are like, but they know that they can bounce back. There is enormous faith here, enormous strength here. You can see it with these families. I mean, they were just devastated a few days ago, and they’re already smiling and laughing, and feeling confident about the future and pulling together.
We heard one story about one of these homes where a local church group came in and did all the work that was needed to strip out the damaged interior of the house. They did it not for any pay — weren’t even asked. But they did it because they care about their neighbors and they care about their friends.
And that’s what we do here in the United States of America, and that’s what happens in Louisiana. When disasters like this happen, we set aside whatever petty disagreements we may have. Nobody is a Democrat or a Republican — we’re all just Americans looking out for one another. And I couldn’t be prouder of this group right here that’s around me for the great work that they’ve done.
Thank you very much, everybody.