George W. Bush photo

Remarks on the Tornado Damage and an Exchange With Reporters in Pierce City

May 13, 2003

The President. This is this man's business. They built their business last year. They had a family restaurant. They had a family restaurant. The children worked in it. And their lives got turned upside-down in one minute. This whole town, this whole street got wiped out. The tornado just came straight down the street.

And the only thing I can tell a man who has lost it all and a lady who has lost it all in one moment is, is that a lot of people are praying for them, and our Government is going to try to do our best. But if you look in his eyes, you can see that—the devastation that took place, when you lose something—all you own overnight. The good news is his family is still standing, and he's strong. God bless you. God bless you.

Q. What's your name?

Scott Rector. Scott Rector. This is my wife, Lynette.

The President. Rector—2002 is when he realized his dream.

Mr. Rector. It's going to say "again in 2003" here in about 5, 6 months. [Laughter]

The President. Yes. Oh, Mike [Mike Allen, Washington Post], okay. We'll get you in a minute. Any questions or anything?

Terrorist Attack in Saudi Arabia

Q. Sir, do you think that the bombing in Saudi Arabia was the fault of Al Qaida?

The President. Well, there's a lot of suspicion it is Al Qaida. Al Qaida is a group of people that they don't care about taking innocent life. And obviously, these killers didn't care about innocent life. And we'll find out. We'll find out. We're going to find out.

Q. Sir, are you satisfied with the cooperation the Saudis have given you? And do you believe they did all they could to prevent this?

The President. Well, we'll let the facts— we'll sort the facts out and find out what the facts are. Colin Powell is over there now, and I'm confident, when I get back to Washington tomorrow, that George Tenet of the CIA will give me a full briefing of what we know. And we'll just find out. Let me get back to Washington and sort through the facts.

Q. Are you going to pull more Americans out of Saudi Arabia?

The President. Let me get back to Washington, find out the facts. We'll assess all the threats. We'll take the necessary precautions. But one thing is for certain: The people that killed the Americans and other innocent life will be tracked down, and they will be brought to justice. It doesn't matter how long it takes. The war on terror goes on. And this incident in Saudi Arabia shows the country that we still have got a war to fight. And we will fight it, and we will win it.

Just like the people of this city are going to rebuild this city, this country is going to defend our security and fight these terrorists.

Q. This bombing looked like it was pretty well-planned.

The President. It was very well-planned, yes.

Q. So these guys have a little bit of money, they have some infrastructure——

The President. It doesn't take much money to put a car bomb together. It takes hatred. It takes hatred in your heart. It takes an absolute disregard for innocent life. And that's the nature of Al Qaida. I can't say for certain it was Al Qaida yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

Q. Do you think Iran——

The President. Iraq?

Q. Iran.

Tornado Damage in Pierce City

The President. Oh, I have no idea. Look, it's way too early. Let me get back to Washington and get the facts, and we'll work on it.

In the meantime, my heart is right here in Pierce City, Missouri, with the people whose lives were destroyed as a result of a tornado that swept down this street. And let me say one thing about what I saw at the church. I saw not only a determined group of citizens, but I saw a group of volunteers from all over this State, and even some from Texas, I want you to know, that they want to help them. And for that, I'm grateful, and I know their Nation is as well. There's a lot of love in this country.

Q. There were so many storms, all of a sudden, unlike anything you've seen before.

The President. That's what happens sometimes. You know? That's just what happens sometimes. Weather patterns change. And you know, I'm from Texas, where we had the Jarrell tornado came and just wiped out the city of Jarrell. They hadn't had a tornado in that part of the State in a long time, and lo and behold, one shows up, and people lost their life.

Q. Do you think the Government is doing enough?

The President. Well, that's what I'm here to ask. And I want to make sure FEMA responds quickly. I've been told by the Governor he's satisfied. The mayor has told me that he believes we're moving fast enough. But I'm moving out of the councils of government. I'm trying to get directly to the people to find out. And there's— a lot of people are content, and some people are frustrated.

Yes, ma'am.

Q. So many people here didn't have insurance——

The President. That's right, and we're going to have to deal with that.

Q. Is there money available that's not a loan for these people?

The President. Well, we have—we'll just have to figure it out, take a look and see. But you're right, there's a lot—a lot of the homes were insured, and a lot of the businesses weren't. And as you can see, this street right here, all the commerce in this entire town was wiped out. The mayor was talking about what it means to be trying to run a city that has got no sales tax revenue because nobody can buy anything because the businesses are destroyed.

And this is devastation—complete devastation here in Pierce City, and that's what we're here to—listen. We've got the people from the Federal Government all over it. The people from the State government are listening to people's complaints. And we'll just see the best we can do. I am not going to make a promise to these good people that won't be fulfilled. So I'm here to listen, first of all.

Terrorist Attack in Saudi Arabia

Q. Were you surprised at this attack could take place a year and a half—after a year and a half of——

The President. No, I'm not surprised. Al Qaida—until Al Qaida is completely brought to justice, they want to hurt Americans and our friends and allies. And so we'll do everything we can to secure the homeland, and we'll do the best we can to make sure people can't come into our country and hurt us. But the best way to secure the homeland is to chase these killers down, one at a time, and bring them to justice, which is the policy of the Bush administration and will be the policy of the Bush administration for a long—hopefully, a long time. I know so long as I'm the President, we will deal with these people.

That's the only way to secure the country. And so these—they'll hit and run, and they'll try to hide. We're going to get them.

Texas Legislature

Q. Sir, you mentioned Texas. Have you been following what's going on in the Texas Legislature?

The President. I have not.

Q. Democrats leaving the State to avoid a vote——

The President. No, I haven't—[laughter]—but I'm confident my friend—that Governor Perry will be able to deal with it.

Why don't we get out of the rain? Thank you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 2:30 p.m. during a tour of the city. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Bob Holden of Missouri; Mayor Mark Peters of Pierce City; and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George W. Bush, Remarks on the Tornado Damage and an Exchange With Reporters in Pierce City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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