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President Clinton Speaks to Alabama Diasaster Victims

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 15, 1998


McDonald Chapel
Pratt City, Alabama

P.M. 12:27 CDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Let me, first ofall, thank Governor and Mrs. James, Senator Sehlby, Congressman and Mrs.Bachus, Congressman Hilliard and we were joined earlier today byCongressman Riley and Congressman Aderholt, my long-time friend MayorArrington and my friend Senator Heflin. I thank all of you for joining us,Senator Escott, Representative Hilliard, Sheriff Woodward and all the lawenforcement officials.

I want to thank James Lee Witt and our SBA director, Aida Alvarez fortheir presence today and all the FEMA workers beginning with Mr. Witt, forthe wonderful job they've done here in Alabama. I'd like to thank thepeople who've shared their stories with me, Pastor Homer and Shelby Jordonas we stood in their Chapel Hill Baptist Church down there. I thank Billand Gail Reed and Morris and Bonnie Rambert and Bill and Cindy Rutland, whoare our hosts. We're on their property today. They are throwing an openhouse for us.(Laughter.)

All of you know that we're looking at what remains of one of thedeadliest tornadoes in Alabama's history, one of the most powerfultornadoes ever recorded in the United States. I've just come from arecovery center in Pratt City where I spoke with some other grievingfamilies. I met a young man who was on his way to his wife's funeral.They were married just a year and month.

When the Vice President came back from his tour here he told me aboutthe destruction, but this really is a place that has to be seen to bebelieved and understood. I want all of you to know, here in Alabama, thatthe entire country has been moved by this disaster, by its scope, by itssweep, and by the way you have recovered and tried to fight through it.

Our country has prayed for and hoped for you and for your neighbors inGeorgia. As always, I have been especially moved by the way people in thecommunity have pulled together and reached to their neighbors whom theyknew, and their neighbors whom they did not know before this terribletragedy struck, and I thank you for that. (Applause.)

I never cease to be amazed when I see people who have lost everything,who can still express their gratitude that they and their children andneighbors are still alive and they have the ability to start again. Yourcommunity has pulled together. Your state has been here, and there is aresponsibility that your fellow citizens throughout the country feel.

The reason we have a Federal Emergency Agency, the reason the SmallBusiness Administration has disaster assistance, the reason we do all thesethings is because all of us recognize that from time to time in Americathings will happen that no community, not even one state, can handle on itsown.

I am pleased that federal assistance checks are already in the handsof Alabama residents who are repairing and rebuilding their homes or thosewho need temporary housing or medical care. I spoke to some folks todaywho hadn't received them yet, and I assured them that they would be theresoon, and that if they aren't they ought to call us and let us know.

I know, too, that today the first disaster loans to businesses wentout from the Small Business Administration, about $600 thousand worth tothem. Also today I can se we are making available all categories of publicassistance funding for local governments and non-profit organizations torebuild, restore and reconstruct public facilities, including schools andinfrastructure, and I think that's very important.

And I think its also important that we recognize that for all thecourage and heroism and just plain old fashioned resilience of the people,there are emotional and physical stresses associated with a disaster likethis that go beyond the cost of the buildings blowing down and the homesblown away and the family letters and pictures that will never be seenagain, even beyond the hospital costs of legs that have to be set, and cutsthat have to be sewn up.

So we're authorizing a crisis counseling assistance and trainingprogram here to provide up to nine months of community services andoutreach to help people who need to be supported as they start trying tolook to tomorrow again.


Finally, I talked to a number of people today who obviously can't goto work right now because of what's happened, who are concerned about theirsituation. Secretary Herman and the Department of Labor are going toprovide over 3 million jobs for temporary jobs to assist in the clean upand recovery. And I hope some of the people in this neighborhood who maybe unemployed as a consequence of the tornado will be able to get sometemporary work helping to put their neighbor's lives and their communitiesback together again.


Finally, let me say that our FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, contactedthe National Council of Churches about the loss and destruction to churcheshere and they have pledged to help on a national basis to assist in theeffort to rebuild and repair all the churches that were damaged anddestroyed here in Alabama as a result of this tornado.


Let me just close with a special commendation for all the state andlocal emergency management officials, the search and rescue teams, thevolunteers who have labored so long; the Governor told me about some of thehorrible human loss just within yards of where we're standing. I thank thepeople in our military uniforms. Many of them have been here for hours andhours and hours without relief. I know that many of these relief workershave been working more than 18 hours a day to clear debris, to cut trees,to lift telephone poles. I would like to compliment your power company forgetting the power back on within 48 hours and allowing some measure ofnormalcy to return.

I would like to thank the Salvation Army for providing the free meals;and all the people that contributed food from all over America. I wouldlike to thank the people who have provided quilts or medicine or otherphysical support. I would also like to say -- Bill and Gail Reed saidsomething to me I think I ought to say to all of you -- they said, youknow, a lot of times in the last few days the most important thing they gotfrom their friends and neighbors was just a kind remark or a pat on theback or an expression of support. And for all of you who have done that Ithank you.

My experience has been from being governor of a state with a lot oftornados for 12 years and then being President during some of the mostprofound natural disasters of the 20th Century, is that the most importantthing for people in trouble is that they know their friends and neighborsand family members are supporting them and that they have some concretething to look forward to tomorrow. We have to give people a way to lookforward to tomorrow; a project, work to do, something that can be done tomake a difference.

I'm always struck by the strength and bravery, the generosity of theAmerican people at a time like this. The families I have seen today havereaffirmed that and I thank them. Back behind us over here in McDonaldChapel, the open door church, may lie in a rubble but I understand that onEaster morning the congregation gathered on folding chairs and held aservice in the parking lot. The book of Isaiah has a verse that hasparticular meaning to me. I'll just leave it with you. "You were weariedwith the length of your way but you did not say it was hopeless. You foundnew life for your strength and so you were not faint."

My friends, the road to recovery is long. Your grief and your painare profound. It will take weeks, months even years to rebuild all thathas been destroyed. But the process of restoration has begun because themost important thing you have, your spirit, was not destroyed. And we lookforward to working with you all the way. Thank you very much.


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