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Remarks After Surveying Flood Damage Along the Potomac River and an Exchange With Reporters

September 09, 1996

The President. Good afternoon. I have just completed a tour by helicopter of flooded areas in nearby Virginia and Maryland, along the Potomac and the C&O Canal with Interior Secretary Babbitt and FEMA Director James Lee Witt.

Let me first say that our thoughts and prayers are with the people who have suffered losses along our Eastern States because of the effects of Hurricane Fran. Lives have been lost; homes and businesses have been destroyed or badly damaged.

For many of our people, the effects have been truly devastating. I want to reassure the people who have suffered that we will provide quick action to help in their urgent time of need. We will do whatever we can to help them get back on their feet.

Virginia has been severely affected. We can see the flooding along the Potomac, but it has also occurred along the Dan, the James, the Roanoke, the Shenandoah, and the Rappahannock Rivers. On Friday, the day after Virginia Governor George Allen requested a disaster declaration, I authorized FEMA to provide 100 percent funding for direct Federal assistance to help with the cleanup of all counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In addition, based on visits to the affected areas by Director Witt, additional assistance is being made available to several cities: Danville, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Waynesboro, and to Augusta, Halifax, Madison, Pittsylvania, and Rockingham Counties, through FEMA's individual assistance programs.

Today five additional counties have been added to that list: Mecklenburg, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and Warren. This will give help to individuals, including temporary housing, family grants, and low-interest loans. Residents in Virginia counties designated for the individual programs should call FEMA's hotline to receive help.

The FEMA number is 800-462-9029. That's 800-462-9029. In North Carolina, where many lives have been lost, 24 counties have been declared eligible for the individual assistance programs as a result of Hurricane Fran. More than 4,000 people have already registered for help in the State of North Carolina.

FEMA will continue to assess the damage from storms, high winds, and flooding until we're sure that the needs of all the affected populations are met in Virginia, North Carolina, and in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

In disasters such as this, it takes all of us coming together to help our fellow citizens get back on their feet. Many have offered donations. A hotline has been set up for those donations as well. That's 800-747-8920. 800-747-8920. The American Red Cross is also helping to get aid to people in need.

Back in the winter, severe snowstorms caused terrible damage along the C&O Canal, as I saw again today. Those damages were repaired by determined people, and because of their work, our people were able to enjoy the paths and the beauty along the canal through the summer. Much of that work will now have to be done again because it's been undone by the flooding. But our people have always been resilient in the face of disasters, and we know that they will be resilient again.

We will do everything we can to get help to them as quickly as we can, and to stay with them for as long as it takes. Again, let me thank Secretary Babbitt, Secretary Cisneros, Secretary Pena, the others who have worked on this, and especially, as always, Director Witt, for an excellent job. Thank you very much.

Flood Assessment

Q. Mr. President, there's another storm brewing in the Caribbean, Hurricane Hortense. How many—what if that should hit the States, and how many can we afford for emergency relief?

The President. Well, Hortense is brewing in the Caribbean, and of course, our first concern now, as I understand it, is for Puerto Rico. And we will just watch it, but we'll have to afford as many as we have to sustain. We have to put a high priority on this.

I think the thing that impressed me—you asked me if there was any one thing I saw that impressed me—the thing that impressed me today was seeing those areas so heavily flooded around Great Falls that I visited. You remember the Vice President and I went out there—I think it was on Earth Day—and helped to clean away some of the debris with a lot of the young people that were there with the AmeriCorps and local conservation programs. To see it all under water again and the power— the sheer energy and power of the Potomac manifesting itself all the way downriver and the flooding of Old Town in Alexandria, the inundation of Hains Point, where I run so many times, and those other places that it really reminds you of the incredible impact that a hurricane and its storm center can have, even in areas where it doesn't directly hit.

Q. Is that area salvageable now, sir? This is the second big hit in——

The President. Absolutely, sure it is. Secretary Babbitt pointed out that actually a lot of the major investments that were approved by the Congress to fix what was done before have not been made yet. So they have almost all their major capital investments still to make. And therefore, the funds have not been, if you will, wasted or broken, and we'll be able to go forward.

Is that right?

Director James Lee Witt. Absolutely.

Q. Sir, do you see the—to the Republicans— [inaudible]——

The President. No, I think Americans, without regard to party, believe in aggressive disaster relief. I would hope they do. We've been through a 500-year flood in the Middle West, the big flooding in the Pacific Northwest, the earthquake, and all the terrible other problems that we had in California, the fires and the floodings. So just about every region of America has been touched in the last 4 years by some form of disaster or another, and I think we all understand our shared responsibilities there.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:39 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks After Surveying Flood Damage Along the Potomac River and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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