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Biden Pledges Hurricane Recovery But Can’t Give a Timeline

August 31, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Homes are flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Lafitte, La. The weather died down shortly before dawn. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden tried to sound reassuring Monday afternoon but could not guarantee a quick recovery from the devastation Hurricane Ida caused to southeastern Louisiana.

“We’re going to stand with you and the people of the Gulf for as long as it takes to help you recover,” Biden said during a televised “status update” with local officials in Louisiana.

The entire New Orleans metropolitan area remained without electricity Monday during sweltering heat. Many roads were blocked by fallen trees, power lines and other debris.

Early insurance industry estimates show insurers expect to pay $15 billion to $25 billion to their customers to repair the hurricane’s damage.

Biden administration officials described an extensive emergency relief response. It includes deployment of more than 5,000 National Guardsmen, preparations to distribute 3.4 million meals, setting up more than 200 generators and sending in 17 urban search and rescue teams.

Utilities in Louisiana estimate they will need at least a week to restore electrical power but White House press spokeswoman Jen Psaki would make no promises.

“It could be weeks to get everything up and back running,” Psaki said.

The president declared Louisiana a disaster area on Sunday, even as he dealt with the political disaster of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The announcement could free up billions of dollars in federal aid to be distributed to hurricane victims through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The hurricane made landfall with 140 mph sustained winds Sunday afternoon. Even as it was downgraded to a tropical storm, it continued to cause heavy rain and flooding on its path toward the northeastern United States.

Louisiana’s governor gave the grimmest forecast.

“We have one confirmed death, but I don’t want to mislead anyone,” Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “Robust search and rescue is happening right now, and I fully expect that the death count will go up considerably throughout the day.”

Meanwhile, effects of the hurricane are expected to stretch far beyond Louisiana, possibly raising gas prices and interfering with freight shipments nationwide.

AAA, the automobile club, said in a press release, “Drivers will almost assuredly see gas prices rise this week, because of Hurricane Ida’s effects on the Gulf Coast. Based on overnight movement in the futures market, a 10- to 20-cent jump at the pump is not out of the question.”

Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama are home to about 45% of the nation’s crude oil refineries. Nine refineries lay in Hurricane Ida’s path.

Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest diesel and gasoline pipeline, was shut down Sunday as a precaution. It runs from Texas to the Mid-Atlantic.

“Where gas prices go from here will depend on the extent of the damage and how long it will take for fuel production and transportation lines to return to normal,” the AAA said.

One quick solution was proposed to the Environmental Protection Agency Monday by the Renewable Fuels Association. 

The trade group suggested the EPA grant a waiver to allow more ethanol to replace any gaps in gasoline supplies.

“Specifically, we ask that EPA take steps to immediately allow fuel terminal operators, blenders and marketers to increase their use of fuel ethanol to help fill the void in gasoline supplies created by refinery shutdowns in the Gulf Coast,” Geoff Cooper, the association’s president, wrote in a letter to the head of the EPA.

Other transportation problems are being confronted by the nation’s major railroads, most of whom operate major hubs in the New Orleans area. All of them, including Union Pacific Corp., CSX Corp., BNSF Railway Co. and Kansas City Southern, shut down or rerouted their trains that operate in the hurricane’s path.

Kansas City Southern sent a notice to its customers saying it could resume normal service only after the floodwaters recede and its crews repair rail lines.

“Please note that once the line has reopened, customers should expect some delays until the backlog has been alleviated and normal speeds can be resumed over the affected area,” the company said in its notice.

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