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Exchange With Reporters During a Tour of the Earthquake Damage in Santa Cruz, California

October 20, 1989

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what you think you're able to do? We know you've heard a lot about money today. You've heard billions -- different figures. Give us some sense of what you can do.

The President. Well, I think that FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] will move very rapidly. I asked them to work closely with the local authorities -- the Governor [George Deukmejian] on to the mayors -- to get a figure. But in the meantime, the main thing is that there not be a lull.

I've been very pleased with what I'm told is extraordinary cooperation. And it's not just the Federal role cooperating -- it's the State; it's the county; it's the volunteers. God bless those volunteers -- when you hear that there's an enormous Red Cross effort in this relatively small community, just an outpouring.

I'll tell you one very touching thing was that this town, this community, spent $18,000 just in volunteer contributions to South Carolina just a handful of weeks ago. And here they are stricken. And I hope that the American people will respond with exactly the same compassion that this community showed to a State all the way across the country.

And so, for me, the lessons are manifold. I guess the most emotional thing was talking to the father -- well, first to the doctors and then to the father of the little boy whose life was saved on the crushed freeway when the doctors went in and had to amputate his leg to get him out to the hospital. And I talked to the dad and talked to the doctor. And so, there's this human dimension that's brought home much more clearly by coming here.

But in terms of what it will cost, I don't know. But the Federal Government will work with these other entities -- the government entities, private entities -- to see that the suffering is alleviated and restoration begins. And I'm confident that that will happen. I was talking to Senator Wilson and Governor Deukmejian coming over here, and they feel that FEMA is moving and moving promptly. I haven't had a chance to ask the mayor [Mardi Wormhoudt] about it in this community, but we've got to get these disaster centers open and take the claims, reduce the bureaucratic redtape that sometimes goes with them. And I'm confident we can do that, but I can't give you a total figure.

Q. Democrats are prepared to introduce legislation on Monday calling for $2 1/2 billion in immediate assistance to this area.

The President. I don't think it's a partisan thing. I don't know whether -- any people who are introducing legislation as Democrats. Somebody may have an assessment of what they think it will cost, but I'm willing to take a look at it and see. The Federal Government will respond, is what I'm saying. But I don't look at anybody making an effort at this juncture on a disaster of this magnitude as a partisan thing.

Q. Congressman Mineta says he thinks it will take $5 billion or $6 billion in Federal money.

The President. He'd have a good insight. We'll just have to wait and see.

Q. Are you willing to go above the Gramm-Rudman limits if -- --

The President. I'm willing to do what's needed to be done. But it's going to take a lot of hard -- look, what I don't want to do is start making estimates when the Federal Government doesn't have the information from which to make those estimates. But a man's on the spot, like Norm Mineta, and a great concern -- be very interested to see how he reaches that figure.

Q. You're calling for private people to send in contributions like they did to Hurricane Hugo. It sounds like maybe there's a ceiling on just how much the Government could do, and you'd like to -- --

The President. No, there's no ceiling on the compassion of the American people. And that's the point. And when you look at private efforts just in what we've seen today, you can't put a price tag on that kind of caring.

But I'll say this, that if it weren't for the Points of Light, for these volunteers, the bill to some level of government would be way, way, way higher than it is today. Because neighbor helps neighbor; friend helps friend; people reaching across and tries to lift up those that are hurt -- I don't know how you put a price tag on it, but that is the American way. And it's been that way, and it always will be that way. And so, I would take this opportunity to encourage people to support the Red Cross or the Salvation Army effort that we saw up in the bay area. And there's no way you can put a price tag on it. It comes from the heart.

Any others?

Q. Congressman Mineta, have you been able to put a pricetag on it?

Representative Mineta. It's very tough to do right now. We have teams out that are beginning to estimate the damage, and I've got to tell you the damage figures are going up almost hourly. We started off around here at $350 million; now we're close to $800 million in damages in this area alone. So, I suspect that we're going to be just in excess of a billion dollars in damage right here. I think the President's right: We've really got to get an accurate assessment of what these damages are before we put a number.

Q. Is the money out there?

Representative Mineta. Well, as we all know on the budget, we fight for the money wherever we can try to find it. But when it comes to this kind of emergency, we're going to find it.

The President. The State is doing a superb job. The Governor -- give the man credit and his people he works with. I mean, they have reserve funds, and now they're prepared to go try to get more. So, it isn't simply the Federal Government. And without committing the mayor, I expect she'll do her best.

Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:25 p.m. as he toured the Pacific Valley Mall, which was damaged by an earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay area on October 17. A tape was not available for verification of the contents of the remarks. Following his remarks, the President traveled to San Jose, CA.

George Bush, Exchange With Reporters During a Tour of the Earthquake Damage in Santa Cruz, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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