Obama Says He Discussed Hurricane Isaac by Phone—From Plane

August 31, 2012 - 1:00 PM

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at the University of Virginia on Aug. 29 as Isaac hits Louisiana. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

President Barack Obama, who in 2005 criticized then-President George Bush for not exhibiting a “greater sense of empathy” toward the victims of Hurricane Katrina, told a campaign crowd at the University of Virginia on Wednesday afternoon--as people in Louisiana were dealing with what the National Hurricane Center called “life-threatening hazards” caused by Hurricane Isaac--that he had discussed the hurricane on the telephone from Air Force One as he was flying East from a previous campaign event in Colorado.

“Hello, Virginia! Go, Hoos!  Wahoowah!” Obama said to raucous cheers in the high-spirited opening to his speech at UVA. “I still don’t know what a Wahoo is.  But I know we’ve got some here today.”

In 2005, in the wake of Katrina, Obama had called for a government that was "more serious, more somber" in dealing with both crises like hurricanes and what he called "systemic problems."

“It is good to be back in Charlottesville,” Obama said on Wednesday.

According to the White House transcript, someone in the crowd then shouted out: “I love you, Obama!”

Obama responded: “I love you back.”

Then the president brought up the hurricane that was hitting the Gulf Coast.

“Before I get started, let me just say that on the flight over here I was on the phone with our FEMA Director, Craig Fugate, and Janet Napolitano, who does our homeland security, as well as some of the governors and mayors who are now being affected and are having to deal with Hurricane Isaac,” said Obama. “And I think it's important for all of us--because we know we've got some prayerful people here--to just let people on the coast know our thoughts are with you, our prayers are with you.

“We are going to make sure that we are doing every single thing that we need to do to ensure that the folks down there are taken care of and have the support and the love of the rest of this country,” said Obama. “Because when things like this happen, there are no Democrats or Republicans. There are just Americans. And we stand by Americans in their hour of need.”

At that point, the president turned to topics including the start of the school year and football season.

“Now, I know for me, it's great to be back in Charlottesville,” said Obama. “And this is an exciting time of year. Class is back in session. Come on, we need a little more enthusiasm, students. The football team has got a home game on Saturday. And in just over two months -- just over two months from now, for the first time in many of your lives, you're going to get to pick the next President of the United States

On Sept. 11, 2005, two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, then-Sen. Obama appeared on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” where he criticized what he perceived to be President Bush’s lack of empathy.

Stephanopoulos asked: “How do you explain why President Bush didn't seem to get this early on?”

“You know what, it's hard to explain. I mean, it's puzzling, given his immediate response during 9/11 that he did not feel a greater sense of empathy towards the folks that were experiencing this enormous disaster,” said Obama.

“You know, I went down to Houston with President Clinton and former, former President Bush, and as you walked around, you just got a sense of mothers who had lost their children, of adults who had lost their parents in the floods,” said Obama. “I talked to one woman who said, we had nothing before Katrina, and now we have even less, and I think that captures the sense that our government has to be more serious, more somber about how we address the kinds of systemic problems that we have, not just during crises, and that's obviously a major concern that all of us have, how can we be so slow in responding when we've been pouring billions of dollars into homeland security, but more importantly, how are we going to make sure that everybody in our country has the kind of opportunity they deserve.”

Katrina, a hurricane that was rated as high as Category 5 at times, was a Category 3 when it made landfall on the coast of Louisiana at 7:10 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005. Hurricane Isaac, a less powerful storm, was a Category 1 when it made landfall on the coast of Louisiana at 7:45 p.m. EDT on Aug. 28, 2012.

At 2:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on Wednesday, about an hour and a half before the president spoke at UVA, the National Hurricane Center put out an advisory saying that the center of Hurricane Isaac was then 45 miles southwest of New Orleans and had “maximum sustained winds” of 75 miles per hour. At 3:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said Isaac had “weaken[ed] to a tropical storm” but that “life-threatening hazards from storm surge and inland flooding are still occurring.” The White House transcript says the president took the stage at UVA at 3:31 p.m. EDT.