September 2, 2021
Albany, NY

Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Takes Questions in Queens after Providing Update on Storm Recovery Efforts

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Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Takes Questions in Queens after Providing Update on Storm Recovery Efforts
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Earlier today in Queens, Governor Kathy Hochul took questions from the press after providing an update on storm recovery efforts.

A rush transcript is available below: 

Question: [inaudible]

Governor Hochul: Excellent questions. Those are my questions this morning when I spoke to the leadership at the MTA. Here's what we need to do. We need to identify the areas where we have vulnerabilities on our streets, where the drainage systems are not functioning properly and they're close to the entrance of a subway and we need to be able to fix those first so we don't get a situation where the drainage system, the sewer system, can't handle the volume, and then the water just creates a river down the steps and into the subway system. I think that's our first priority. I know that's my first priority. So I want to also have an after action report on this. What did we know and when did we know what information we had? What information do we have? Were there any intelligence failures in terms of our preparedness? I know I deployed resources yesterday morning, but we did not know that between 8:50 and 9:50 PM last night, that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls level water to the streets of New York. Could that have been anticipated? I want to find out. Is that something we should have known in advance? And the question is, should we have shutdown subways earlier. You have to realize many people were already on the subways. We shut them down, they're trapped underground. That is not an option, but I want to assess why we don't stop people from, new passengers from going down the stairs into them. It should be all about evacuation, not bringing new people into the system at the time. And your first question was?

Question: [inaudible]

Governor Hochul: Yeah, there were storm warnings, tornado warnings throughout the evening. But I don't see whether or not more could have been done. That's a good question. 

Question: Governor Hochul, I have two questions. Can you talk about any damage at MTA railyards? The second question is for Mayor de Blasio.

Governor Hochul: Yeah, we have damage. We have damage and I'm going to be out visiting some of the sites right now, and we'll be embedded with FEMA personnel. This is what happens first - everything has to settle down, stabilize, make sure we're protecting life and property. Job number one. Number two, within a few days, we'd go out there with the FEMA crews, literally add up the extent of the damage, file for our declaration with the federal government. And this has been, President Biden assured me, he said, Kathy, I'm going to do this for you. You tell me what you need. So we're prepared to take all those steps starting right now.

Question: And for Mayor de Blasio, we just heard from a neighborhood who says they have been asking for help about the sewers. Can you explain why the floods [inaudible]. It's not even a flood zone, people couldn't get out, they weren't notified.

Mayor de Blasio: Let me get our DEP Commissioner, I think is here, Vinnie Sapienza, he can speak to the specifics, have him come over. Look, as you heard from Congressman Meeks and from Borough President Richards and Council Member Miller. Over the last few years, we made a $2 billion investment in addressing the infrastructure problems in Southeast Queens, including the sewer problems. This is a tragically very long-standing problem and one of the things that became clear was we were going to have to make an extraordinary investment to address it. As you've heard, that investment is having impact, but it's not complete. It's been going on for years. It will take some more years to finish. In terms of the impact of the investments here in this immediate area, Commissioner Vinnie Sapienza, DEP.

Commissioner Sapienza: Thanks mayor. So a couple of things, one is that the rate of rainfall that occurred was just really extraordinary. Council Member Miller mentioned that the storm we had, you know, a couple of weeks ago with the remnants of Henri, which is about the same total amount of rainfall that fell, but this all fell really within a very short window, few hours. And I think that was a big difference. As the mayor said, you know, we, we recognize in this area of Southeast Queens an investment was needed. It was long overdue. The mayor announced a $2 billion commitment a few years back, and that work is well underway.

Question: How do you explain flooding in Woodside and Forest Hills that caused people to die?

Commissioner Sapienza: Yeah. So we're going to do that full hydraulic. But rainfall rates were really extraordinary and far exceeded the capacity of the system. Anything over two inches an hour, we're going to have trouble with.

Question: Can I just follow up on Steven's question because you were all talking -and governor, for you, but all of you as well, you were talking about how this was a warning call and a warning. But the fact is, we've been having these event and the people here are talking about how they happen all the time. We've had two hurricane in the last couple of days. You're talking about the need for investment. What do you think about the people who are here right now aren't sure that the next time it rains a lot that they're not going to be in the same position that they were in the last time?

Governor Hochul: I have been to so many catastrophic flooding events from Lake Ontario to Long Island to now, to the city. So, no, this is not unusual anymore. Anyone who says it's once in a century -once in 500 years -I don't. I'm not buying it. This has to be considered the normal course of business. So we need to take steps to prepare. 

We should have evacuation plans that every single homeowner knows about what you do when the water starts rising. Is our communication system adequate to let people know in homes and on subways that this is dangerous. Are alerts going out on people's cell phones? How do we communicate? And are we doing a good enough job. Because I'm not going to stand here and guarantee it won't happen again tomorrow. I don't know. But I know we need to do much more in our resiliency, addressing climate change. And we have an aggressive program that I'm going to even take to the next level. But that's long-term. That's not going to help the people on the street. I'm not going to pretend it will. What I'm talking about is letting them know we've got their backs. We'll help them heal. We'll get them the resources from the federal government once they get that declaration and let them know we're not satisfied either. This is not OK with any of us. 

Mayor de Blasio:  And let me, hold on. Let me add, let me add, let me add. Excuse me, Governor. Gloria to your question: I think we now understand that every attempt at projection bluntly is failing us. Let's be clear. We're getting from the very best experts, projections that then are made a mockery of in a matter of minutes. What I want to work with the governor on and by her comments, you can see she's already there -we need to start communicating to people that we should assume things are going to be much worse in literally every situation. Yesterday morning, the report was three to six inches over the course of the whole day, which was not a particularly problematic amount. That turned into the biggest single hour of rainfall in New York city history with almost no warning. 

So now we've got to change ground rules. From now on what I think we do is tell New Yorkers to expect the very, very worst. It may sound alarmist at times, but unfortunately, it's being proven by nature. The infrastructure investments look, $2 billion to Southeast Queens, is a big deal. But what we're seeing is we're going to need more than we ever possibly imagined. 

Thank God for the first time in our lifetimes almost, the federal government is finally truly committed to infrastructure spending. But I don't think it's too little too late, I think would have helped us a hell of a lot more a few decades ago, but we're going to be playing a lot of catch up, but we're talking not billions, tens of billions, even hundreds of billions to really be able to make people safe. 

Council Member Miller: Let me just say something on that: The $3.5 trillion that we're trying to get through in the reconciliation bill is to deal just with that. That's why that's such a big issue in Washington, DC. Not just the 1.8 for infrastructure, but when we're talking about climate change and when you're talking about housing, when you're talking about making sure that we have the resilience for the future, not for today, just for the day, but for the future, we must get this $3.5 trillion bill done, and that's Washington DC, and we're coming together to do that. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor de Blasio:  Who are you asking? Do you have the specifics?  

Commissioner Shea: Just first, our hearts go out to all the victims. It's an unimaginable loss for New York City and Queens right now. And we pray that the number does not go up further. We have nine confirmed victims. Eight of the nine victims are in the borough of Queens. Eight of the nine victims also took place in residential homes, in basements. The latest victim that we have is an, individual that passed away after a vehicle accident on the Grand Central Parkway. And that individual was discovered in the backseat of the car within the last hour. So again, we pray that the number does not go up from there and, and certainly in the NYPD and all city workers, our hearts go out to all the victims to this terrible tragedy. 

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