Hurricane Florence could be a storm of 'historic proportions': HHS Secretary Alex Azar

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has declared a public health emergency for North and South Carolina ahead of Hurricane Florence.

Though Florence was downgraded to Category 2 storm, it is expected to produce catastrophic rainfall and flooding, life-threatening storm surge and destructive winds. More than 10 million people are in Florence’s path.

“This hurricane is a very serious event,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar told FOX Business’s Maria Bartiromo on Thursday. “It could be a storm of historic proportions and people need to follow the directions of state and local authorities and evacuating and taking care of preparedness.”

HHS is “actively working” under President Trump’s leadership with FEMA to ensure safety in the Carolinas.

“We are prepared,” Azar said. “We’ve already advance-placed our resources. We’ve got Health and Human Services people in the field. We are in communication with each of the governors and we are here to assist with response and recovery as the hurricane comes on shore.”

There are very high public health risks that can occur in the aftermath of the storm, he said, but HHS is also concerned about the well-being of seniors and patients in hospitals that could lose power.

Because of this, HHS has developed emPOWER Map 3.0 to help people dependent on electric medical equipment.  According to the website, the tool “gives every public health official, emergency manager, hospital, first responder, electric company, and community member the power to discover the electricity-dependent Medicare population in their state, territory, county, and ZIP Code.”

“We use our Medicare claims information,” he said. “We know every patient that is dependent on electricity for their health care and we make that available to the states and they can target these people and go find them and get them relocated.”