Office of the Press Secretary
(Main Street Tarboro, North Carolina)

For Immediate Release Monday, September 20, 1999


2:27 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Well, let me begin, ladies andgentlemen, by thanking Mayor Morris for welcoming me. And I thank MayorPerkins, from Princeville. I flew over there and saw all the houses stillburied under water. I want to thank all the city officials, all the countyofficials, all the state officials for the magnificent job that they have done,the lives they've saved and all the things they've done to try to ease your way.

I'd like to thank the members of Congress who came with me today. YourCongresswoman, Eva Clayton. When she was speaking I started to call herReverend Clayton, she did such a good job. (Laughter.) She talks to me justlike that in Washington all the time. If she wants something for you, she comesin the White House and talks to me just like she did today. (Applause.) AndCongressman David Price, Congressman Bob Etheridge, I want to thank them, too.

I want to thank the members of my administration who came here. And I'dlike to introduce them to you. This is Secretary of Transportation, RodneySlater. (Applause.) Secretary of the Army, Louis Caldera. They did a lot ofwork for us -- he's back here behind me. (Applause.) I want to thank themilitary. The Administrator of the Small Business Administration -- they'll bedoing a lot of work up and down this street -- Aida Alvarez. (Applause.) And Iwant to thank the people who have spoken before for their praise of the Directorof the Federal EmergencyManagement Agency, James Lee Witt. Thank you. (Applause.)

I also want to thank my good friend, Governor Jim Hunt. Youknow -- (applause) -- I know all of you know this anyway, but heis in the process of completing a term, after which he will haveserved 16 years as governor of North Carolina. (Applause.) AndI served 12 years as governor of my state -- would have made twomore if you hadn't been good enough to send me to Washington.(Laughter.) And I can tell you, it will be -- next January willbe 21 years since I started working with Jim Hunt, 21 years.(Applause.) We didn't have so much gray hair back then.(Laughter.) He is the finest governor in this country --(applause) -- and a ferocious advocate. So I will do my best todo what he wants, so that I will not have to put up with himcamping out on the White House lawn to get help for you.(Applause.)

Let me say, if there's one thing I've learned visiting somany natural disasters, as the President and, before that, for adozen years as a governor, is that no matter how much televisionthere is, it doesn't do it justice. Because it can't show whatit feels like inside for people to lose a business they've puteverything into; to people who lose their home when they have totake their kids to a shelter and not know where they're going tospend the night next week; for farmers to have labored for fouryears and see a crop totally destroyed by water or the sun andnot know whether they can keep their land or wonder if they canever buy seed again.

And that's why we have organized all these emergencymeasures, because -- Jim Hunt and I were laughing; you know, weworked so hard to build the economy and to improve education andto protect the environment and take care of the health care needsand all of that, but as all the pastors out here in the audienceknow, every once in a while something happens that proves to youno matter how hard you work, you are never completely in control.And we are not completely in control. (Applause.)

So that when things like this happen to some of us, we knowthey could happen to all of us. And our country -- first of all,our thoughts and prayers are with you. And, secondly, we know wehave a responsibility as members of the American family to helpyou get back on your feet again and we intend to do it.(Applause.)

Now, the federal government has already worked very hardwith the Coast Guard and others. We've been involved with yourlocal people. I believe we think we saved almost a thousandlives. Too many people have died here, and not everyone isaccounted for. And Governor Hunt told me today you're stillrescuing people that had been accounted for. But there are a lotof people alive today; and with all the loss, we can thank Godthat there are people who are alive who might not otherwise havebeen because of the efforts people have made. (Applause.)

So we're going to do what we can to help. And I want totell you some things we can do in the very short run. We havealready authorized FEMA to provide for direct federal assistanceto clean up the 66 counties in North Carolina that have beenhurt. Today, the Department of Agriculture will approve adisaster food stamp program to help people who need help to getfood for their families. And people who need it ought to takeit. There's nothing to be ashamed of here; people who need itought to take it. (Applause.)

Today, the Department of Agriculture, all they can do forthe farmers, and that's what -- is to offer the low-interestloans. Some of the bigger farmers, that'll be enough. Some ofthe family farmers will be ruined, not just here but in otherplaces. And I'm going to do what I can to see that the emergencyfarm bill, which was drawn up to deal with the drought andhistoric low of grain prices overseas, includes the victims ofthe horrible drought and then the floods on the East Coast, fromNorth Carolina all the way up the East Coast, where our farmersare. (Applause.)

The Department of Labor has authorized $12 million fortemporary jobs, and to assist in cleanup and restorationactivity. People who need them ought to try to get them. Themoney is designed not only to help you clean up, but to helppeople who are out of work and need some immediate income to getit. And if there's more needed, we'll try to get more down here.

The Small Business Administration has authorized disasterloans for homeowners to repair or replace damaged property, andloans for businesses to repair property, equipment and inventory,and provide companies -- this is important -- and providecompanies with adequate capital until they can resume normaloperations. And that's very, very important, so you all need totake advantage of these things. (Applause.)

FEMA has set up and 800 number for victims of the flood.And people who are eligible for the individual relief programsshould call the hotline, the FEMA hotline, which is 800-462-9029.For the reporters in the audience, please put this in the paper:that's 800-462-9029.

Now, the next thing that we've got to do is to deal with thehousing problem, which is a huge, huge problem. Some people areinsured against the floods -- and we just learned today,apparently because of blanket policies; but most people who havebeen flooded out, as has already been said, were not in any floodplain. Some of you in a 500-year flood plain, nobody getsinsured for that. Many people beyond the 500-year flood plain --which means if you got flooded out it shouldn't happen again foranother 600 or 700 years, we know you'll be prepared.(Laughter.)

Now, for you there are -- and a lot of people here are lowincome people that don't have much money. And if people thatcan't repay any kind of loan can qualify for cash assistance, andeverybody can qualify, we're going to try to do what we did inNorth Dakota, which is to get as many trailers as possibleavailable for people to live in that can be taken to theirproperty and plugged in, so people can supervise either gettinganother trailer if they were living in a trailer, or rebuildingtheir homes while they're on site.

For those who don't want to do that and who need help, thereare cash funds that are available to help you live somewhere elseand other help available to buy furniture and do things of thatkind. You need to make sure, as soon as you can, if you lostyour home, as soon as these centers are clearly up and open --and I know a lot of you are dying to move out of these shelters,but it has got to be safe and the water has got to go down first-- but you need to make sure that you know where the applicationcenters are; that you go in, you figure out what you're eligiblefor.

Now, what we have to do is go back to Washington andcomplete the assessment of not only how much damage was donehere, the worst place, but also in Virginia, which was hit prettyhard, and all the way up to New Jersey and New York, which werehit pretty hard. And then we've got to figure out if we haveenough money to deal with the present problem. We know we needextra help for the farmers, but we've got to look and see ifwe've got enough extra money -- Secretary Slater and I saw someroads that were washed out. It costs money to fix those roads.We've got to make sure we've got the funds necessary to do whatneeds to be done. If we do, well, we'll flow them; if we don't,we'll go back to Congress and try to get some more.

But the American people know that no individual can handlethis alone, and our community ought to be doing this together.So let me say, finally, I have been -- as always, butparticularly today -- profoundly impressed by the spirit of thepeople here. (Applause.) One of the ministers over there -- oneof the ministers over there, who looks like a professionalweight-lifter, by the way -- (laughter) -- has got a shirt onthat says, "too blessed to be stressed." (Applause.) And I wantyou to keep that attitude.

I know -- man, I can only imagine what it's like, especiallyfor those of you with young children, spending night after nightin the shelters with all these people, some of whom you know,some of whom you don't, everybody is bumping up against everybodyelse. You get tired of the prepared meals, you wonder whereyou're really going to be able to go. I know it's frustrating.

But we've got to wait until the water goes down. Then theMayor has got to be careful -- both these Mayors -- before thewater can be turned on again, to make sure that it's safe, thatthe supply hasn't been contaminated. There are just things thathave to be done.

So I urge you to keep your spirits up, and know we're goingto be with you every step of the way. Know that you have strongadvocates in your local officials, your wonderful governor andyour very vigorous congressional delegations that are representedhere. We're going to stay with you until you get back on yourfeet again, as long as it takes.

Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)

END 2:40 P.M. EDT

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