[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1996, Book II)]
[September 9, 1996]
[Pages 1512-1513]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks After Surveying Flood Damage Along the Potomac River and an 
Exchange With Reporters
September 9, 1996

    The President. Good afternoon. I have just completed a tour by 
helicopter of flooded areas in nearby Virginia and Maryland, along the 
Potomac and the C&O Canal with Interior Secretary Babbitt and FEMA 
Director James Lee Witt.
    Let me first say that our thoughts and prayers are with the people 
who have suffered losses along our Eastern States because of the effects 
of Hurricane Fran. Lives have been lost; homes and businesses have been 
destroyed or badly damaged.
    For many of our people, the effects have been truly devastating. I 
want to reassure the people who have suffered that we will provide quick 
action to help in their urgent time of need. We will do whatever we can 
to help them get back on their feet.
    Virginia has been severely affected. We can see the flooding along 
the Potomac, but it has also occurred along the Dan, the James, the 
Roanoke, the Shenandoah, and the Rappahannock Rivers. On Friday, the day 
after Virginia Governor George Allen requested a disaster declaration, I 
authorized FEMA to provide 100 percent funding for direct Federal 
assistance to help with the cleanup of all counties in the Commonwealth 
of Virginia.
    In addition, based on visits to the affected areas by Director Witt, 
additional assistance is being made available to several cities: 
Danville, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Waynesboro, and to Augusta, 
Halifax, Madison, Pittsylvania, and Rockingham Counties, through FEMA's 
individual assistance programs.
    Today five additional counties have been added to that list: 
Mecklenburg, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and Warren. This will give 
help to individuals, including temporary housing, family grants, and 
low-interest loans. Residents in Virginia counties designated for the 
individual programs should call FEMA's hotline to receive help.
    The FEMA number is 800-462-9029. That's 800-462-9029. In North 
Carolina, where many lives have been lost, 24 counties have been 
declared eligible for the individual assistance programs as a result of 
Hurricane Fran. More than 4,000 people have already registered for help 
in the State of North Carolina.
    FEMA will continue to assess the damage from storms, high winds, and 
flooding until we're sure that the needs of all the affected populations 
are met in Virginia, North Carolina, and in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and 
West Virginia.
    In disasters such as this, it takes all of us coming together to 
help our fellow citizens get back on their feet. Many have offered 
donations. A hotline has been set up for those donations as well. That's 
800-747-8920. 800-747-8920. The American Red Cross is also helping to 
get aid to people in need.
    Back in the winter, severe snowstorms caused terrible damage along 
the C&O Canal, as I saw

[[Page 1513]]

again today. Those damages were repaired by determined people, and 
because of their work, our people were able to enjoy the paths and the 
beauty along the canal through the summer. Much of that work will now 
have to be done again because it's been undone by the flooding. But our 
people have always been resilient in the face of disasters, and we know 
that they will be resilient again.
    We will do everything we can to get help to them as quickly as we 
can, and to stay with them for as long as it takes. Again, let me thank 
Secretary Babbitt, Secretary Cisneros, Secretary Pena, the others who 
have worked on this, and especially, as always, Director Witt, for an 
excellent job. Thank you very much.

Flood Assessment

    Q. Mr. President, there's another storm brewing in the Caribbean, 
Hurricane Hortense. How many--what if that should hit the States, and 
how many can we afford for emergency relief?
    The President. Well, Hortense is brewing in the Caribbean, and of 
course, our first concern now, as I understand it, is for Puerto Rico. 
And we will just watch it, but we'll have to afford as many as we have 
to sustain. We have to put a high priority on this.
    I think the thing that impressed me--you asked me if there was any 
one thing I saw that impressed me--the thing that impressed me today was 
seeing those areas so heavily flooded around Great Falls that I visited. 
You remember the Vice President and I went out there--I think it was on 
Earth Day--and helped to clean away some of the debris with a lot of the 
young people that were there with the AmeriCorps and local conservation 
programs. To see it all under water again and the power--the sheer 
energy and power of the Potomac manifesting itself all the way downriver 
and the flooding of Old Town in Alexandria, the inundation of Hains 
Point, where I run so many times, and those other places that it really 
reminds you of the incredible impact that a hurricane and its storm 
center can have, even in areas where it doesn't directly hit.
    Q. Is that area salvageable now, sir? This is the second big hit 
    The President. Absolutely, sure it is. Secretary Babbitt pointed out 
that actually a lot of the major investments that were approved by the 
Congress to fix what was done before have not been made yet. So they 
have almost all their major capital investments still to make. And 
therefore, the funds have not been, if you will, wasted or broken, and 
we'll be able to go forward.
    Is that right?
    Director James Lee Witt. Absolutely.
    Q. Sir, do you see the--to the Republicans--[inaudible]----
    The President. No, I think Americans, without regard to party, 
believe in aggressive disaster relief. I would hope they do. We've been 
through a 500-year flood in the Middle West, the big flooding in the 
Pacific Northwest, the earthquake, and all the terrible other problems 
that we had in California, the fires and the floodings. So just about 
every region of America has been touched in the last 4 years by some 
form of disaster or another, and I think we all understand our shared 
responsibilities there.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:39 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White