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Spokane, Washington Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Following a Meeting With State and Community Leaders.

May 22, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. I'd like to make a brief statement and then answer a few questions, limiting the questions to the Mount St. Helens explosion and eruption and the aftereffects of it.

This is a brief trip for me, but I wanted to come here with the Director of our Federal emergency management administration, responsible for the coordination of all the Federal efforts and the cooperation with local and State officials and others who are responsible for the alleviation of the problems that have arisen with the explosion and eruption. Also the Secretary of Agriculture is with me; the Secretary of Interior is here, the Secretary of the Army, responsible for the Corps of Engineers work. I have my own science adviser from the White House, who's an expert on geology and who specializes, coincidentally, in the kinds of problems that have now arisen. In addition, of course, we have other major officials; the Director of the National Institute of Health is along. They have been consulting very closely with State officials on how we might better cooperate in the future to minimize any danger or adverse effect of the Mount St. Helens explosion.

It's been one of the most powerful and destructive national and natural phenomena in history. There's nothing in recorded history to equal what has been exerted here in force in the continental United States, equivalent, some have estimated, to 10 million tons of TNT or a 10-megaton bomb exploding of atomic power.

I've flown into the area to see the devastation there, and it's truly unbelievable. Of course, east of the explosion was where most of the dust has settled, and this is a very troubling problem for us. In the area of Richfield, and about a 40-mile radius around there, is the heaviest concentration of this fallout material. It's 3 to 5 inches deep. Transportation is still obstructed in that area, and, of course, here in Spokane there was about a half inch of the material deposited on the ground.

The rain has alleviated an immediate problem of the fine dust in the air, but I hope that everyone, as the material dries out, will continue to wear facemasks of some kind to minimize the material that will go into one's lungs.

We have assessed county by county already the damage being done here in eastern Washington, in Montana, and the northern panhandle area of Idaho and to some lesser degree in other States. This material is not toxic. Over a period of time it can be incorporated readily into the soil. There will undoubtedly be some damage to agriculture. Now those who produce milk are finding it impossible to market in some regions, of course, and the milk is having to be dumped, but we don't know of any troubling aspect of the long-range effect of the ash concentration in the degree that it is in most parts of eastern Washington.

We will continue to work very closely with Governor Ray, with Governor Evans, and others who are responsible for the State effort, and of course, with local government officials on a continuing basis.

One of the important aspects of any catastrophe like this is the concerted effort of individual citizens. There has been a remarkable absence of panic and a tremendous exhibition of patriotism, cooperation, and community effort to clean up in this region, and I want to congratulate the people here for that attitude and hope it will continue.

The first responsibility, obviously, will be on individual citizens. The-cities are doing the best job they can, under very difficult circumstances. Many tourists and others in some very small communities have exacerbated the problem. We have begun now to see transportation open up.

We have, in addition to that, a need for considering how to finance the cleanup efforts that will be necessary, and, of course, we will go to the Congress for additional funds. Governor Ray and Governor Evans will have to provide additional State funds, and the local governments, of course, will have a responsibility as well. I recognize that in some areas funds cannot be increased through additional taxation. There will have to be a change in priorities in some degree, but I will ultimately be responsible for this coordination of effort.

I'd like now to ask for any questions. I'll answer two or three questions if I've overlooked something in which you—

REPORTER. Mr. President, what specific requests were made to you by some of the local officials upstairs in the meeting?

THE PRESIDENT. They requested specifically that there be a local concentration of effort by the National Guard in the use of equipment that's already in this area. This is a joint Federal-State responsibility, as you know. Governor Evans requested that I declare an emergency for eight counties in the panhandle region of Idaho, and I've done this verbally and it'll be done in writing as soon as I get back to Washington and get his request.

Obviously, the large cities like Spokane, once they get a moderate degree of cleanup completed, can help the surrounding smaller communities that don't have the trucks, the graders, and other things that are required.

We will assess on a county-by-county basis the agricultural problems. I have authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to extend the storage period for wheat. As you know, the time was to run out at the end of May for the storage of carryover wheat. Since the transportation facilities, a few places like Portland and down the Columbia River, are restrained right now because of silting in the Columbia River, we've extended that time for 1 month and, if necessary, will extend it additionally for certain regions of the impacted areas.

Those are the kinds of requests that we have received so far.

Q. Mr. President, what does the Federal declaration mean to the average homeowner and to the average farmer?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it means that in particular instances, low-interest loans can be made for the repair of damage. In some instances, direct grants will be available—or funds, but this is an extraordinary case where the damage is very severe and of a nature that can't possibly be handled by the family or the business person. It obviously means that the National Guard can be used and Federal forces can be concentrated in this region.

We have in addition to that, surveillance going on in the damaged area around—north of Mount St. Helens, where we are still searching for roughly 71 people who are missing. And both recovery of bodies and the search and rescue operation is being conducted by Federal agencies like the forestry service and the Interior Department with the Park Service.

We also are permitted to go ahead on an emergency basis, without adequate funding assured, to dredge the channel in the Columbia River. We hope that in, say, 3 days, we'll have a one-way channel at least 25 feet deep to get the ships out into the ocean who are now stranded in the Portland Harbor.

These are the kinds of activities that can go on immediately under an emergency declaration.

Q. Mr. President, has there been any other indication on more volcanic activity of a very substantial nature of Mount St. Helens?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Most of the volcanologists believe that there will be additional activity involving Mount St. Helens with heavy magma bubbling up from in the Earth and forming a new dome there. They believe, however, that the tremendous pressures that build up in Mount St. Helens that resulted in the explosion will not be repeated, because the cone of the mountain has been destroyed, approximately 1 cubic mile of earth and rocks have been blown away by the explosion, and the mountain is now about 1,200 feet lower than it used to be. So, this has vented out those tremendous pressures that built up that resulted in explosive force. But I think there will be further eruptions. Yesterday there was an earth tremor that measured about 4 on the Richter Scale, which is serious but not damaging.

My hope is that people who would be sightseers will stay away from the area. Prior to the eruption, there was kind of an organized effort by many people to circumvent roadblocks and to go into an area that was acknowledged to be dangerous. Many of those will never again be found. That's a large portion of those who are still missing, is those who did not obey the safety precautions.

So, I think there is no immediate danger. What we thought originally, that the ash might be toxic, is not true. It is not toxic. It has about the same acidity as normal rainfall, for instance. There is no poisonous materials in the ash. We were afraid there would be very severe adverse environmental problems. That is not the case. We thought that Spirit Lake might be on the verge of a massive break through the dam that was formed by the ash and might flood Kelso and other cities further downstream. We don't believe that's a real danger now. It'll probably, over a long evolutionary period, cut through that damming material and form a new channel in effect.

So, the immediate fear, I think, has been alleviated in these kinds of instances.

Q. Mr. President, have you been advised as to how much the rainfall has helped?

THE PRESIDENT. It's hard to say. I think you here in Spokane would see that the situation now with the material compacted to about a half or a third of its former depth and the particles in the air being constrained by the rainfall has helped. What will occur in the future, I don't know, but obviously rainfall has helped.

We don't know what the long-range effect is. We will be concentrating a special science advisory committee, coordinated between my own science adviser, Dr. Frank Press, Governor Ray, Governor Evans, and others, to see what kind of vegetation might ultimately grow, for instance, on the ash that's deposited west of Spirit Lake, to see what can be done about predicting more accurately the future activities in Mount St. Helens.

It's an extraordinary physical occurrence with—and will be extremely valuable for science to study in the future, but I just can't answer your question any better than that.

Q. Mr. President, in your conversations with citizens around the State of Washington have you heard complaints about the response by the National Guard and by State agencies in this situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Most of the comments have been congratulatory in nature. Obviously, if someone's isolated in a farm home or if there's a very severely impacted town, like Richfield, they are dissatisfied at the response so far. But I believe you've seen here, if you're from Spokane, that there was enough to keep everybody busy right here, and our first responsibility was to minimize danger to life itself, among human beings, to remove people from the impacted area, which Governor Ray did so superbly and those who worked with her, and to make sure safety is maintained. The second step, of course, is to clean up the mess and ultimately to restore the beauty and the quality of life in this region. The longrange handling of economic impact, a loss of income on the farms, and the interruption of commerce—those kinds of things, can be considered in a more orderly fashion as a less high priority.

One of the very serious problems, of course, is that of the Toutle River Valley. The roads are completely gone, and there's 150 square miles of land, very beautiful forestland, that's absolutely destroyed as far as the timber is concerned. But these kinds of things can be handled in an orderly fashion. It's going to take a long time to correct the damage.

Q. What could be the long-term effect on the Northwest and on the Nation itself if the eruptions continue?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe there's any danger of those eruptions continuing in a damaging fashion if people will simply stay out of that danger area. Most of the eruptions in the future are very likely to be so-called magma, which is molten rock, and not an explosion, as took place in the past.

But historically when the Mount St. Helens or other Cascade Mountain volcanoes have exploded, the eruptions and the tremors have continued for 10 or 12 years or maybe more than a decade. But they've not been explosive in nature, and I think the likelihood of a future explosion would be minimal. I've got scientists who've told me that. I don't know any of that on my own.

Q. Mr. President, can you tell me how much you're going to ask Congress to appropriate?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know yet. We'll have to go to Congress for a special appropriation of emergency funds, and fortunately for Washington the chairman of the Appropriations Committee has come out here with me. Senate Magnuson is extremely stingy with the taxpayers' money, and ordinarily single-handedly he cuts the budget about $15 billion. But he's assured me and a few people in the State of Washington that he will not be stingy when it comes to providing emergency funds for you. Is that right?

Q. In Idaho, I'd like to ask you how helpful Governor Evans and his staff have been.

THE PRESIDENT. Perfect. By the way, Governor Evans asked this morning that I declare the eight counties in the panhandle region of Idaho to be an emergency area, and I've already authorized that that be done, verbally, and we'll conclude the paperwork later on.

I think that's enough questions. I'm really grateful that you would come and let me be with you. I've learned a lot.

Senator Magnuson would like to—

SENATOR MAGNUSON. May I say something? I want to, on behalf of the people of the State of Washington, Idaho, and the rest of them, thank the President for showing a great concern about our problem. And we're going to attack the best way we can. It's an unknown situation. We don't know what the effect's going to be on agriculture or water or things of that kind. But the immediate problem requires some action•

He's assured me that he will back up the action. He has to come to Congress to get the money to do it. It isn't only money; it's the whole business of getting coordination together. And he's brought with him out here the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, and John Macy, who handles the emergency matters, and we're all going to get together and we're going to take care of this situation.

I want to thank you on behalf of the people of the State of Washington, Idaho, and everything else, for showing your deep concern about this matter.

THE PRESIDENT. I might point out that every 2 weeks in the White House I meet with five Members of the House and five Members of the Senate, the Democratic leadership. Senator Magnuson comes because he's, as you know, the President pro tem and because he's chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and he's a senior Member of the Senate as far as time of service is concerned. It's a very reassuring thing to me.

Another of the five Members of the House who comes, along with the Speaker and the Majority Leader, is Tom Foley. And his tremendously beneficial impact, not only on the leadership but also agriculture is helpful to the whole Nation. The damage in this eastern part of Washington is potentially most severe on farmers, ranchers, and their people. And to have Tom Foley as the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and also in the five top people in the House of Representatives, is a tremendous benefit to this region.

Tom is the one, for instance, who suggested to me and to the Secretary of Agriculture that we extend the time for farm storage. I never would have thought about it on my own, but he's familiar with the problems. And I think your having these two men to serve you, along with Governor Ray, who has a scientific background and who's been on top of this problem from the very beginning, is extremely helpful.

So, to work with this group and with Don Bonker and with Governor Evans and others is extremely reassuring to me as President. I'm also grateful for all the local officials who helped me. Mayor Bair not only told me about his own city, Spokane, but he was almost as deeply concerned about the smaller communities around here who don't have the cleanup equipment and facilities of his own, that he does.

So, I think the community effort on the broadest possible definition of community has been extremely helpful to every citizen, and gratifying to me as President.

Thank you again.

Note: The President spoke at 2:45 p.m. at the Spokane International Airport fire station.

Following the question-and-answer session, the President returned to Washington, D.C.

Jimmy Carter, Spokane, Washington Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Following a Meeting With State and Community Leaders. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250450

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