Gerald R. Ford photo

Remarks at a Meeting To Report on U.S. Disaster Assistance to Italy.

May 17, 1976

THE PRESIDENT. I have asked the Vice President and Mr. Parker 1 to come in and give me a firsthand report on the AID [Agency for International Development] request that I made to the Congress to help the earthquake victims in Italy. And, as all of you know, the Vice President and Dan Parker went to Italy to see firsthand the devastation that came from the earthquake, to. talk to the people, to work with the government, and to show firsthand that this administration is very, very concerned and willing to help in trying to alleviate the suffering and participate in the rebuilding.

So, Mr. Vice President, would you give us a quick summary of what you saw?

1 Daniel Parker, Administrator, Agency for International Development.

THE VICE PRESIDENT. Let me just take us back a little, Mr. President. You have done a lot of wonderful things for people in your life, but of all the things you have done, I don't think anything has ever reached people the way this action of yours--sending that message to Congress 2--$25 million, to which Congress acted and responded--the way that has touched the Italian people.

2 See Item 453.

We were over there. We arrived, and people--an old lady who had lost her husband came up and embraced me. Everywhere we went people just came up to thank you for what the American people were doing in standing with them, standing with Italians is the way they felt, in their suffering.

I was talking to a doctor in one of the tents, and I might just say that half the population--out of 180,000 people, 90,000 people--lost their homes. And they are in tents, big tents, 20 people in one tent, beds just next to each other, like that, in two rows, and one chair and a basin.

We were in there. It was raining for 2 days--and the mud. I was talking to the doctor in this village who was strong, taking care of the people. And when I went out of the tent, they said, "He didn't say so, but he lost his daughter and his mother."

THE PRESIDENT. You were telling me of the one woman in the hospital who lost seven children.

THE VICE PRESIDENT. Six children she had lost. I came in, and we went to the hospital. There were 1,000 people killed and about 2,500 in the hospital--and 90,000 homes--but the hospital was taking the people in. Her husband was there. I came in and was going down the ward, and he just came over and threw his arms around me and he just gripped me. She was absolutely unable to even react. She lost all her family. Her leg was crushed. It was extraordinary.

But the response to America, they just feel--and as I said, we are all in a family together, and your people helped build our country and now you are in trouble. We are with you, thanks to the President and the Congress.

But the extraordinary thing was, they weren't complaining about what happened. Their courage, their dignity, their strength is fantastic. All they want to do--the one thing on their minds is how can they get materials to start rebuilding their homes. They don't want to move out of there.

THE PRESIDENT. The $25 million that I recommended, and Congress has approved, will be under the guidance of Dan Parker of AID.

Dan, do you want to give us a quick rundown of what we are doing?

MR. PARKER. As the Vice President indicated, Mr. President, our objective is to get our assistance to the people as quickly as possible. There are many small villages in this area. In this area about 50 villages were either totally or very substantially destroyed.

By October they have to get out of the temporary housing--the tents--and get back in to some kind of shelter that can last them over the winter. It will probably take 2 or 3 years to rebuild totally.

So, the objective of the Italian Government--and ours, in assisting them--is to get as quickly as possible some sort of decent shelter.

The interests of the commercial, the industry, even the farming, the agricultural business, is very substantially disrupted. They lost substantial amounts of their dairy equipment, key parts of their economy.

The villages are old and have a lot of historic value and monuments, too. What was interesting to me was that people would approach me and point out the need to protect their historic monuments, their church, their city hall.

I would find out afterwards that the man who had been saying that to me had lost members of his family, his home had been destroyed, and yet one of the first things on his mind was, protect our cultural heritage.

THE PRESIDENT. This is in the northern part, as I understand. The Yugoslavian border is here, Trieste, and the Austrian border is north.

MR. PARKER. North, yes. This is an alluvial plain, and it rises into the mountains rather precipitously. The impact area is right where rugged foothills are, and there are quite a number of avalanches that did quite a bit of damage. There are quite a number of incipient ones that have to be taken care of before the area is safe.

THE PRESIDENT. Is this an area where there have been earthquakes previously?

MR. PARKER. No, Mr. President. The best records that we can find show the last earthquake in this area was in the fifteen hundreds. So, it is not an occurrence they would be ready for. We hope, however, that in the rebuilding, that the new structures will, in fact, be resistant to it.

THE VICE PRESIDENT. Mr. President, the Italian Government did a beautiful job in moving immediately on this, and the Italian military--within an hour, between an hour and 2 hours--they were in there. All the deaths occurred in the first minute of the earthquake. This whole thing happened just like that.

THE PRESIDENT. What time of day was it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT. Nine o'clock in the evening. That's why so many people were in their homes. That's why they were killed in their homes.

THE PRESIDENT. We had, before you and Dan Parker came, we had some of our military ....

THE VICE PRESIDENT. They did a beautiful job supporting--

THE PRESIDENT. the helicopters, light-wing, fixed-wing aircraft.

MR. PARKER. There is an American air base, Mr. President, Aviano, which is very close to the area. And those men--we can be very proud of them, because both as an organized military unit and, as well, they as individuals and their families have been really terrific.

THE VICE PRESIDENT. They had many volunteers, too.

THE PRESIDENT. I thank you very, very much, Mr. Vice President, and Dan Parker. It was an emergency mission for the best interests of those unfortunates who suffered, but I think it's another expression of American humanitarianism in an emergency, whether it's in Guatemala or Italy. The United States has moved in the right way as quickly as possible and with very good results.

THE VICE PRESIDENT. And the Italian people, Mr. President, feel the American people are with them. This shows tremendous sense of courage and help for the people at their moment of need, thanks to you.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you all very much.

Note: The meeting began at 2:20 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House where Administrator Parker presented the President with a 17-page report, prepared by the Agency for International Development, on U.S. relief efforts in Italy.

Gerald R. Ford, Remarks at a Meeting To Report on U.S. Disaster Assistance to Italy. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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