Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

March 19, 1936

THE PRESIDENT: This is the latest information, not for quotation. We have had this meeting. The Secretary of War is the Chairman, and all Government departments are completely coordinated in this relief situation. The important thing to stress is, I think, that the Red Cross is principally concerned. I have issued a Proclamation, of which I think you have copies, asking for contributions to the Red Cross in accordance with the usual custom.

This money is absolutely essential to the Red Cross because they handle the problems of clothing, food and lodging and furniture—providing temporary shelter for people and things like that, and medicine. They also cooperate with the municipalities in repairing private houses so that they can be made habitable. There are, of course, a very large number of houses in which the cellars and ground floors have been under water for a day or two.

The second agency is the C.C.C., and they have been doing extraordinarily good work. In that connection there is a rather good human interest feature with respect to this particular flood which is rather new. The Chief of Staff says that one of the outstanding things that has happened in the last forty-eight hours is the information as to exact situations that has been furnished by the C.C.C. amateur radio sets. For instance, on the dam above Johnstown, after the papers had come out with large headlines as to the dam going out, the Army picked up a message from one of the C.C.C. boys who said, "I am sitting on top of the dam and it has not gone out because I am still sitting on it." (Laughter) "And it is not going to go out." Of course it did not go out. Now, that kind of information is extremely valuable.

The C.C.C. in every locality where we have camps is providing labor to rescue people and to do patrol work pending the arrival of the militia. They are guarding property, and clearing away the worst part of the debris.

The third agency, the relief workers under Mr. Hopkins, are being used in practically every community. Their task is to clean up and build dikes, as they are doing right here in Washington. Then, as soon as the waters go down, the W.P.A. workers will assist the municipalities and counties and towns in restoring the water supply, restoring the flooded sewers, so that they will work, helping to put the light lines and the telephone lines back into commission, making the highways passable and assisting in building temporary bridge structures, where the bridges have gone out.

And then the fourth phase of it relates to actual rescue work. Of course there is not, at the present time, a very great deal of that. That is being handled by the Coast Guard, and, more or less, under the general direction of the Army, the Chief of Staff. Both the Army and the Coast Guard are participating in that work. The Navy hasn't sent in boats yet because we apparently have enough floating equipment from other sources. It is bringing medical supplies in, cooperating with the health authorities and the Army.

General Markham reports that at Pittsburgh the situation was that the flood reached its crest last night at 9 P.M. at a stage of 46 feet; that at 10:30 this morning it had receded to 39.4 feet and is dropping rapidly.

The power, light and telephone service is out; the water supply. south of the Monongahela River is cut off and the central heating is off, but the lights will be resumed tonight. The police and the National Guard are in good and effective control, and the thing seems to be well in hand.

At Sharpsburg, many people were marooned, but all have been gotten out. Apparently twenty persons lost their lives, however, in and around Sharpsburg. The dam near there, which it was feared might go out because it is under construction, is last reported to be okay.

At Johnstown—an Army officer arrived there last night and said this morning that conditions are not as bad as reported. The big dam seems to be safe. There are about 17 feet of water in the downtown section but it is receding quickly. Loss of life has been from 7 to 16. The Red Cross has its relief stations going. Medical supplies are adequate. Food is somewhat deficient, but is beginning to come in in quantity. Selected men from the C.C.C. are in control of policing; and today two thousand W.P.A. workers started to clean up the town. The worst of the crisis is over.

I think that is about all. You will do a service if. you will point out that the chief thing we want now is contributions to the Red Cross fund. We will handle this as we have handled other emergencies such as earthquakes and so forth in the past. That is the principal task today.

Q. They ought to put the bee on all the boys today. They collected their expense money. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: So far as my plans go, if things are definitely improved tomorrow, we shall go tomorrow, and if not we shall go the next day.

Q. Will you have a Press Conference tomorrow?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't any other news. If the flood continues, we shall all be pushed on that.

Q. Have you any idea of how much the Red Cross will need for this flood work?

THE PRESIDENT: About three million dollars. Isn't that right, Cary?Admiral Grayson: (Chairman, American Red Cross) Yes, sir.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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