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Remarks By The President At FEMA Headquarters

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary
(FEMA Headquarters
Washington, D.C.)

For Immediate Release Thursday, September 16, 1999


2:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Governor. Let me just say, there may be some people who question, when this over, whether we did the right thing to recommend all the evacuations. But now that we have this technology at the National Weather Center, we have to act on it. And we can all be grateful to God that this stormed turned away and didn't hurt us as bad as we feared. But I think that this is a terrific test, even though it was extremely burdensome, because some day our ability to do this evacuation will save hundreds of people's lives.

And I just want to thank you, Governor. I'm glad that all those people, in the end, didn't have to go. But I'm glad we did it because we've got the technology now, we knew what was likely to happen and I just wanted to thank you. And I hope that all your people also believe that some day our ability to do this will save hundreds of lives. And I thank you very much.

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Governor. Let me say that on the third point you made, we'll do everything we can to help you. On the second point, we'll give you the declaration you seek today. And it's unusual, but it's fairly unusual for your wife to be waste-deep in water in somebody's home, too. (Laughter.) So we'll try to help as much as we can. And I regret that you have had to go through this after what you went through with Fran. And we'll do everything we can to help you.

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Governor. We will do that and, in particular, we want to help you with these emergency protective services that you will need. I'm very concerned about the water filtration plants and the other problems you have. We'll do everything we can to help.

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: You know, everywhere I go in the country -- criticizes the federal government. (Laughter.) And I thank you very much, all of you. I'm very, very -- I'm proud of what we've been able to do over these last few years to try to make sure that when something like this happens, we're always ready and we do the best we can. And we help people. And I'm very proud of you.

This is something that adds a lot to the confidence of people, when they go through what we've just heard about here. Thank you. Thank you, Governor Gilmore, Governor Hodges, Governor Hunt, thank you all very much. And thank you in the Hurricane Center.

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. You can all hear that I can't speak very well today. I just came back from New Zealand. It's about a 20-hour trip, and I lost my voice on the airplane and I apologize.

But let me begin by thanking all of you and Secretary Daley, Secretary Slater, my long-time friend, James Lee Witt. You have no idea -- perhaps you do -- but you probably can't imagine how many times over the last six and a half years an American citizen has come up to me all over this country and thanked me for the emergency work that we do. And I always try to tell them that it's not me, it's you.

But when I became President, because I had been a governor and because we had dealt with a lot of emergencies, I promised myself, as well as the American people, I would do everything I could to organize a team and give them the resources necessary to do what has to be done. And you have all performed superbly. So the first thing I just wanted to do is come by here and thank you very much.

Now, as all of you know, even though this hurricane was not as bad as we had feared, we've got a few problems out there. And I've just been briefed by the team here, members of the Cabinet, and I talked to Governor Hodges, Governor Hunt and Governor Gilmore. For several communities in the Carolinas and Virginia, the storm has brought very severe flooding, there are hundreds of thousands of people without power. There's been a lot of property destruction, and in the case of Virginia, the flooding of at least one, perhaps two, water filtration systems.

Governor Hunt said today that the North Carolina flooding is perhaps the worst in history. So, today, I'm releasing another $528 million to FEMA to address the immediate needs of the victims of Hurricane Floyd and other disasters; issuing an emergency declaration for Virginia to cover debris removal and provide funding for emergency protective measures, including fire, rescue and law enforcement officials; and a major disaster declaration for North Carolina to provide individual assistance to those directly affected.

In addition, we're working with officials from South Carolina to assess what else we can do there. And we're keeping in close contact with state and local officials in Maryland and the other coastal states, now that the storm has moved on.

Again, I'd like to say that I want to commend the citizens from all the states who heeded the warnings to move safely away under difficult circumstances. I'm sure there will be those that second-guess us now, because Florida was not hit, and we moved a lot of people out, and there were plenty of people that moved out of other places. The storm wasn't as bad as we thought.

But we now have technology that imposes on us the responsibility of telling people what we think is going to happen. And there is no question that because we can do this, thousands and thousands of lives will be saved. Governor Hunt said today, there is no question in his mind that lives were saved in North Carolina, because of the people who did evacuate.

So while we thank goodness that the storm was not as bad as we had feared, I just want to reaffirm my absolute conviction that the people in the emergency services work did the right thing to issue the warnings, did the right thing to recommend evacuation. And we got a lot of good practice here, which is going to save a large number of lives in the future.

I also would just like to say, in closing, that the United States, at times like this, always pulls together. There are a lot of people out there today without power; there are a lot of people with their homes flooded; a lot of people feeling fairly desperate. And I know I speak for all of you when I say, we don't want them to feel alone. We will do everything we possibly can to be good, loyal, helpful neighbors to them and get them through this.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, with federal flood insurance, is the government encouraging coastal development at a time when we may be in a new cycle of more dangerous and more frequent storms?

MR. WITT: Let me answer that. His voice is about gone. Without the federal flood insurance program, without 19,000 communities across America being in that program, it not only has saved probably close to $750 million a year in disaster dollars that taxpayers pay -- and the federal flood insurance program is supported by flood premiums, not taxpayers dollars.

The other thing, by being part of the federal flood insurance program, these communities that are part of it have to build to better building standards and better building codes. If they do not do that, then they're taken out of the program. And I have seen many, many times hurricanes like Opal that came through the Florida Panhandle, houses that were constructed after they joined the program survived the storms. The ones that were built before that did not survive the storm.

So we had housing developed on the coast and built on the coast before there was ever a national flood insurance program. But I think because of the program we are building better and safer communities.

Q Mr. President, will there be any central hurricane relief for farmers whose crops have been damaged, Mr. President? There seems to be a shortfall in the hurricane relief they've gotten.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's one thing that Governor Hunt asked me about yesterday, and I am looking at that, because the general disaster assistance performers tends to be targeted to the big, grow-crop places in the Middle West primarily -- not exclusively -- as is natural, because that's where a lot of the big dollar-volume losses have been.

So we've got to go back and look, now, and see what we're doing, because we've got not only this flooding but, also, in this part of the country we've had the biggest drought that these farmers had ever had. So most of them -- not most, but a large number of farmers from Maryland north, in this country, had lost their crops before the flood came. So we need to look at that, and we will now go back, obviously, down to the Carolinas, and go upward and see where we are. And I'll do my best to work with Congress to get appropriate relief for them.

Thank you. (Applause.)

END 2:45 P.M. EDT

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