THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||February 25, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AFTER TOURING TORNADO DAMAGE
Ponderosa Park Campground
11:56 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, first let me say aword of thanks to all of those who have given me this tour and whohave been working so hard since Monday. I brought down here with meour FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, who's already been here; AttorneyGeneral Reno; Administrator of the EPA Carol Browner -- both of themare from Florida, as I'm sure you know -- and our Small BusinessAdministrator, Aida Alvarez.
I want to thank Senator Graham and Congresswoman Brownand Representative Mica for coming down with me today, and to saythat Congressman Boyd and Congresswoman Thurman also wished to comeand could not because of their work requirements, but they expressedtheir concern and support.
I thank Governor Chiles and Lt. Governor MacKay, theleaders of the legislature who are here, Speaker Bronson, MinorityLeader, Senator Dyer, Senator Webster -- I mean Senator Bronson, and-- Representative Bronson and Speaker Webster.
Mayor Atkinson, thank you for making us feel at hometoday and for introducing us to some of your citizens and some ofyour winter visitors. I thank the Osceola County commissioners withwhom I've met -- Chairman Dunnick and others; General Harrison andthe Florida National Guard -- all the people who have been working onthis -- I had a chance to meet a number of them -- I want to thankthem for what they have done.
Some of you know that James Lee Witt, before he becamethe Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was thedirector of our state emergency program in Arkansas when I wasgovernor. Our state has the highest number of tornadoes per capitaevery year. But no matter how many of these I have seen over thelast 20 years, I don't think anybody can fail to be moved andawestruck by the amount of damage that can be done, and the lives andthe treasures that can be taken away in a matter of just a fewseconds.
And I think we all acknowledge here today that what tookjust seconds to destroy will take weeks and months and, in somecases, maybe even years to rebuild. Some of you may have lostprecious pictures, letters, service medals, other mementos of lovedones and family members that may never able to be replaced. We knowthat. But it's also important for you to know that we understandthat you'll be going through a period in which you'll feel alldifferent kinds of emotions. You may be in shock. You may feel likecrying. You may feel angry. And some of the people that aresupposed to help you may or may not do as good a job as they shouldthe first time you ask for it or need it.
What I want to say today is that all over this countryyour fellow Americans are praying for you and pulling for you, andwhatever it is within our power to do to help you return to normallives we will do.
I have already designated federal assistance to 34Florida counties affected by the tornadoes. Twelve will now be ableto receive aid to restore public facilities and infrastructure and totake protective measures -- Bradford, Citrus, Columbia, Duval,Hamilton, Hardee, Highlands, Marion, Nassau, Osceola, Suwannee andUnion Counties. And we are also providing today $3 million from theDepartment of Labor for temporary jobs for workers to assist in thedisaster recovery work so that we can complete it more quickly.
My experience has been that the efforts you see going onaround you to just clean out the debris and help people look at aplace as nearly as possible as it once was before the tornado ispsychologically one of the most importance things that can be done tohelp the healing process and to get people back to normal.
We'll also continue under FEMA's direction to providethe resources necessary to meeting the immediate disaster needs.Already FEMA staffers, the SBA, the Department of Labor, the Corps ofEngineers and some of our young AmeriCorps volunteers are herehelping in the effort.
Let me say again a special word of commendation not onlyto the state and local emergency management officials and the searchand rescue teams and the volunteers who have been working for 72hours, but I'd also like to say a word of appreciation to GovernorChiles and to Lieutenant Governor McKay with whom, unfortunately, Ihave had the opportunity to work now through more than one disaster.Florida has seen a lot of its natural disaster shares. I thinkyou've used up your quota for the next 20 or 30 years in the last fewyears. But I've had an opportunity to see a caring team of stateleaders who work hard, work fast and stay after us at the nationallevel to do our part, and I want to thank them for that.
Let me also just say, for a moment, you may have seen inthe news media that California, which has been beset by unusualamounts of raining and flooding because of El Nino, yesterday wasbadly hit by storms. People died there and our thoughts are withtheir loved ones. I've asked Mr. Witt to go with me to Californiatoday so that he can go to the impacted area and see what is going onthere.
Again, let me say that the thoughts and prayers of theAmerican people are with you. In the Book of Isaiah in the Biblethere is this chapter -- I'd like to read it to you: "The bricks arefallen down, but we will build with you in stones. The sycamores arecut down, but we will change them into cedars."
We want to see you do that -- brick by brick, home byhome, street by street. You can do it and we want to be there tohelp. God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.)