Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference at Harlingen, Texas, Following an Inspection of Hurricane Damage

September 28, 1967


THE PRESIDENT. [1.] First of all, we are very thankful that we have had as small a loss of life as we have had attendant to this disaster.

Second, we are very proud that our neighboring country of Mexico, through its President, could work so cooperatively with the United States in meeting the common problem.

The Governors of the States across the river and the Governor of this State have been in close communication and have worked in perfect harmony throughout.

There wasn't a great deal that I could personally do by coming here. I had received reports from Senator Yarborough, Senator Tower, and Congressman Jones of the Public Works Committee. The Governor has been in touch with me every day since this disaster started last week. I was generally familiar with the distress that had been suffered.

We had taken steps to provide all the assistance that we could to the local, county, and State officials who were dealing with the situation.

I asked Secretary McNamara last Friday to see that every facility of the Defense Department was available to the extent needed. And I am very proud of the performance that the Defense officials have carried out.

Mr. Hastings, who is Governor Bryant's 1 regional manager, with headquarters in Denton, has been by the side of the Governor and the local officials throughout this period. It has been a common judgment in connection with every recommendation that has been made.

1 George E. Hastings, Director, Region 5, Office of Emergency Planning, and Farris Bryant, Director, Office of Emergency Planning.

The thing I want to stress particularly by coming here this afternoon and visiting some of the hospital centers and the food centers, and flying over the area, was to let these people know that their Government cares for them, and let our neighbors who are the unfortunate victims of distress across the river know that we care for them, and that we are a compassionate and understanding Government. And in the hour of need, we are there. As nearly as I can see, every need that they have had has been met.

Governor Connally has presented, through Mr. Hastings and Mr. Bryant, on behalf of the State of Texas, with the approval of our regional headquarters, a very thorough report and request that we declare this a disaster area, applying it to several counties. There will be additional counties added from time to time.

The purpose of that declaration is primarily to make eligible certain funds for the rebuilding of public facilities--roads, and any buildings that may have been destroyed, things of that nature.

The law requires that the Governor make an appraisal of the damage that has been suffered. It is a very difficult thing to do, but the State officials, the regional officials, and the local officials have been at work. And they tell me that they estimate that it will be somewhere in excess of $20 million.

The Governor is making that application, and I am acting on it as of now.

It will be declared a disaster area. $2.5 million will be set aside immediately.

As the local authorities, the engineers, the State, regional, and Federal officials have a meeting of minds after the water recedes and they can see just how much damage has been done to the streets, highways, underpasses, and matters of that nature, we will add to it.

We are going to do whatever is needed to be done.

We are going to meet whatever requirements must be met.

We are, as I said, an understanding, compassionate Government--and in the hour of need we are going to be there.

I have, unfortunately, had to observe a good many disasters of this and other natures--hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, and so forth--since I have been President.

I have never seen one where the people were more cooperative and more understanding of the problem confronting them.

I have never seen one where the local, county, State, and Federal officials worked more cooperatively together.

I congratulate one and all from the small town mayor to the Governor of the State, and to the generals of the Army and the privates who supported them in this effort. I am very proud of my country.

I am very proud of the officials of the various subdivisions of the Government.

We are sorry this had to happen, but we are thankful that we have lost as few lives as we have.

Now is the time to rebuild. And that will be underway. I will affix my signature to the declaration of the disaster as soon as I get in the plane. $2.5 million will be set aside. That money will be available if, as, and when projects are presented that justify approval. Allocations will be taken from that fund.

As we get better surveys and get additional damage known, those applications will be extended, not only to the 24 counties now involved, but there may be additional ones. Well, then the fund will be increased proportionately.

Senator Yarborough and Senator Tower have assured me, as have the Congressmen involved--Congressman de la Garza, Congressman Kazen, and Congressman Young--that the Congress will make available in their judgment whatever funds are necessary to see that the Federal Government does its part.

So I leave here sad at what has occurred, but proud that our Government has extended its hand in the hour of need, and that the officials have worked well together. And, I think we will come out of it strong and more appreciative of each other.

I will be glad to take your questions, if you have any.


[2.] Q. Mr. President, what was the most impressive thing you saw today on your tour of the valley?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I saw many impressive things. Everything I saw was impressive. I saw the doctors and the nurses caring for the sick, the unfortunate, and the injured. And, I was so thankful that we had skilled people who were trained.

I saw the Army under its excellent leadership apparently anticipating every problem. And, I saw the engineers in charge of the International Boundary Commission.

I saw the people being fed. Every mother that I talked to said they were being handled properly and they were grateful. The food was adequate and good.

I saw these hundreds of poor people who had lost their homes, or who had to move from their homes in Mexico and come to their neighbor across the river. And that touched me.

The doctors, the food people, the irrigation and engineering folks who were in charge-all have made their individual contributions. I think we have much to be proud of

[3.] Q. Mr. President, am I correct in nay understanding that this $20 million estimate is for public facilities only? That does not, of course, include private property, crops or anything like that but just the public facilities?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, one of the points that has been made to the Governor, and I am sure he has passed it along to you, is that a lot of people will be unemployed because of the loss of citrus and other crops for the next 3 or 4 months. Is there any kind of public works program in mind for the valley?

THE PRESIDENT. There are public works programs that are available. We will be glad to survey the unemployment needs and try to provide allotments that will be helpful in that connection through the poverty program, through the public works program of the Army Engineers, and other agencies, the Neighborhood Youth Corps and things of that nature.

[5.] Q. Could this result in some further diversion dams or flood control devices along the Rio Grande?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, Mr. Friedkin,2 of the International Boundary Commission, and Congressman Jones, Congressman de la Garza and the Senators pointed out to me the very important necessity of planning additional dams that will avoid, to a large degree, some of the waste that has occurred here.

2 Joseph F. Friedkin, Commissioner, U.S. Section, International Boundary and Water Commission, El Paso, Texas.

There is no question, I think, but what those plans will be processed and ultimately the Congress will act upon them. Another dam is very much needed.

If there is one thing that impressed me today, it is that I am glad we have built with our neighbor Mexico the Falcon and Amistad Dams--the Amistad now underway. But it is very clear to me that we have not built enough dams in this area.

[6.] Q. The question has been raised that possibly the Federal Government is responsible for the flooding, particularly in the Harlingen area and the Mercedes area, legally responsible because of the failure of the structure near Anzalduas Dam. Do you care to speak about that?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I wouldn't think that would have much merit. There is always something that the Federal Government is blamed for. And there are always some blamers and complainers.

I started out in my public career by creating a man-made flood up on the Colorado.

But, the same people who are doing that now are the ones who are saying we shouldn't have any additional taxes, and we ought to cut appropriations by several billions, and so forth.

I think the Federal Government has been rather enlightened in its actions in this area. Perhaps they have spent more money than the people themselves wanted spent at times. We have completed the Falcon Dam. We are now on the Amistad Dam. And we are now talking about another dam.

If we spent a little less time blaming people and a little more time building instead of tearing down, it would be better for our Government and for our people.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, will you talk with President Diaz Ordaz about some control of the river for avoiding this kind of problem?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We will, of course, welcome the chance to talk to our friend President Diaz Ordaz, who will be in Washington next month. We have already exchanged several messages with him.

We, at his request the other day, sent helicopters into the area and provided certain other assistance. We notified the Ambassador this morning to tell the President we are sending six additional helicopters tonight to help evacuate people.

We will work cooperatively on the job at hand, but we will also talk about any new construction plans that are indicated.

I went to Mexico in 1958 when we had our first conversations with Adolfo Lopez Mateos about the Amistad Dam. I expect we will have a repeat performance when President Diaz Ordaz visits Washington. We will be planning some other dams.

I can't speak for him. And I can't speak for myself now. But, the congressional group and the Governor have urged us to consider putting underway plans for other facilities that will take care of situations like this in the future.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, the Brownsville weather bureau has seemingly had some sort of difficulty in predicting the stages for the Rio Grande because Mexico broke a levee and was diverting water through there and they had no way of knowing exactly how much. So they had difficulty telling us what the stages would be. Do you think there could be more cooperation between the IBWC [International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico] and the Mexican Government?

THE PRESIDENT. I always want to get all the cooperation that can be gotten. And I think we are very fortunate that the neighboring countries cooperate to the extent they can. If that can be improved, I will do nay part so far as the United States is concerned. I am sure that the United States can at least improve everything it does.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan any meetings with any Mexican officials before President Diaz Ordaz comes to Washington next month?


I want to particularly thank the committee from the House and the Senate that has come here; and the alertness of Congressman de la Garza, who has worked day and night on this matter.

I want to thank Senator Yarborough and Senator Tower. This is the second trip they have made. They have been here on the ground floor.

I am particularly grateful and proud of Governor Connally who has talked to me every day since this started.

I am happy that all these servants of the people still care about the people.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and tenth news conference was held at the Harlingen Industrial Airport, Harlingen, Texas, at 7:10 p.m. on Thursday, September 28, 1967, following an inspection flight over areas damaged by floods subsequent to Hurricane Beulah.

At 11 a.m. on the same day, prior to the President's news conference, the White House issued a fact sheet on Federal relief action following the hurricane and floods. The text is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, P. 1353).

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference at Harlingen, Texas, Following an Inspection of Hurricane Damage Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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