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FEMA Director Details Disaster Response


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

We're following Hurricane Rita today, which made landfall early this morning.

David Paulison is on the line. He is the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Paulison, you must be a busy man. Thanks for making a little time for us.

Mr. DAVID PAULISON (Acting Director, FEMA): Well, good morning. I appreciate you airing this.

SIMON: Walk us through what is going to happen in the coming hours between search and rescue, getting electricity back on, making certain facilities, generators are operational.

Mr. PAULISON: Well, the first thing that, obviously, we're going to do, we have to wait until the winds die down and the--so we can get our urban search-and-rescue teams on the ground and get our Coast Guard helicopters in the air to do an assessment. And the first priority will be, obviously, rescue. We will want to move people out of harm's way that need to be moved. Then our next priority will be getting those commodities--food, water, nice blankets, tarps for roofs--into those areas that are most heavily damaged.

SIMON: How soon, for example, might people in Houston begin to think about moving back into their homes?

Mr. PAULISON: Well, what we're telling people to do is just to sit tight until the local officials say it's safe to move. You know, the winds may die down and it may look OK, but the truth is there may be roads washed out, there's power lines that are down that could still be energized, so we're--we tell people just don't do anything. Just be patient, sit still until the local officials say that it's safe and call for them to come back into their hometowns.

SIMON: Are you at all concerned that people who went through, to say the least, a big and exhaustive chore to get out of Houston this time, the next time might be a little bit more reluctant to evacuate?

Mr. PAULISON: Well, you know, I hope not because, you know, we go through this in every storm. We tell people to evacuate and then something doesn't happen. But the truth is that the state did the right thing, they called for the evacuation order, just like they were supposed to, and the local officials followed through, and the people listened. They did the right thing. It may have been rough. I know some of them had to sit in traffic for hours and it was not comfortable, but they got out of harm's way. You know, let's don't forget, this was a Category 5 storm--very, very dangerous storm. It ended up being a Category 3, but, still, you know, these storms are unpredictable. The people did the right thing, and the next time that the state and the locals call for an evacuation order, I surely hope they listen and do the same thing again.

SIMON: Does FEMA play a role in bringing back oil production in the Gulf?

Mr. PAULISON: Well, we've been talking to our principal federal officer on the ground, Vice Admiral Hearith(ph), and he already has in place supplies to help people rebuild those gas facilities if they're damaged. They have parts in place. They have contractors lined up to move in immediately to help with that rebuilding if that happens.

SIMON: And can you answer how many FEMA people do you have on the ground deployed in this theater now?

Mr. PAULISON: Oh, we have several thousand people on the ground already. Just urban search and rescue, we have over 700, almost 800 in Texas and over 400 in Louisiana. Plus, we have Coast Guard people, there's military people there, there's ships that had to move out of harm's way are following the storms back in. There are literally thousands and thousands of people on the ground already ready to move in as soon as these winds die down.

SIMON: David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. PAULISON: Oh, thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.