Obama: Recovery from Irene ‘to take time’; FEMA assessing costs

President Obama warned Monday that the effects of Hurricane Irene will continue to be felt for some time and instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue federal recovery efforts.

Obama, speaking in the Rose Garden, noted that much of New England continues to battle flooding caused by the hurricane, which left destruction from North Carolina to Maine.


Much of the country is trying to “deal with the impact and aftermath” of the storm, the president said before introducing Alan Krueger, his nominee for chairman of the White House Council on Economic Advisers.

“Its going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude,” Obama said.

The president added that even though the storm has passed, the federal response will continue; he has instructed FEMA to continue to assist those affected by the storms.

FEMA has not yet completed assessments on how much Irene will cost. The cash-strapped agency was already well below a key threshold of $1 billion in its disaster relief fund, with just $792 million reported as of Friday.

To meet the immediate needs presented by Irene, FEMA plans to temporarily discontinue permanent repair work from previous disasters across the country.

“All of the individual assistance programs will continue to be funded in full as people register for assistance,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. But any rebuilding work that has not already been submitted and approved will be put on hold.

“We will not be able to fund [that rebuilding work] based upon our remaining dollars as we now respond to Hurricane Irene,” he said. “As we get a better idea of damage assessments, we’ll have some idea of what potential assistance we’ll need. That is currently being worked [on] with the White House as we speak.”

Damage assessments from Irene will also inform how much funding the agency needs in the next fiscal year, Fugate said.

On Monday, the Red Cross reported more than 48,000 overnight shelter stays from Irene since Friday. It is still working to provide those in need with food and refuge, as the agency expects ongoing assistance will be required for several weeks to come.

According to the National Weather Service, rainfall storm totals ranged from five to 15 inches within a 24-to-36-hour period during the storm. As of Monday morning, moderate to major flooding was still ongoing in portions of New York, New Hampshire and Vermont.

On Sunday, Obama vowed to stay personally involved in the effort to respond to damage from Irene.

“Many Americans are still at serious risk of power outages and flooding, which could get worse in the coming days as rivers swell past their banks,” Obama said Sunday.

The storm, while packing less of a wallop than initially feared, knocked out power to several million people and claimed at least 16 lives. It first made landfall early Saturday in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane and moved up the Eastern Seaboard over the weekend.

This story was posted at 11:23 a.m. and has been updated.