THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Portland, Oregon) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release February 14, 1996
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION WITH WOODLAND COMMUNITY LEADERS AND RESIDENTS
Woodland City Hall and Fire Station Woodland, Washington
11:20 A.M. PST
THE PRESIDENT: Is everybody here? Mark, do you want to start?
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: Thank you, President Clinton. I would like to start today by thanking each and every one of you for attending this roundtable session. I want to thank all of our honored guests -- President Clinton; the Director of FEMA, Mr. Witt -- for the attention that's been brought to the community of Woodland. I feel from my heart that this attention was brought to Woodland not because we had a disaster and we had a flood, with loss of property and devastation, but because of the attention that the members of this community brought nationally by pulling together and assisting one another in a way that I have never seen in my life.
Initially, I'd like to start and show on this map up here the aerial photo of the areas that were affected, so that the President can see on the picture the places that he's just gone out and toured. (Points out the flood areas on the map.)
This area is now almost completely developed in homes, and so there was a lot more devastation than what there would have been when this photo was taken. We also had flooding down here that took out the entire airport to the roofs of the hangars. This area of Clark County across the river received a lot of flood damage, in addition to all of this area here.
The effort that was put forth by the people in this community saved a lot of lives and a lot of additional devastation. Volunteer firefighters, the police, the public works employees, Corps of Engineers when they arrived -- there are so many people -- I could be here for two hours thanking them all. I'm having a hard time with this. (Applause.)
The outpouring from this community and surrounding communities has been amazing. We had more phone calls in this command center from people in our community and other communities asking us what can we do to help than we had asking for help. And that just touches me deeply.
Mr. President, would you like to speak? (Laughter.) Before I lose it completely. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I want to thank you and the Fire Chief and the Mayor and everybody in this community who worked so hard. You deserve to be a little emotional, and I bet you haven't had much sleep in the last several days.
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: The last couple of nights have been pretty good. It was the four days of the initial event where I was sleeping on the floor upstairs for an hour now and then that were a little bit tough.
THE PRESIDENT: When the Mayor and I were coming in here -- we went out and toured one of the neighborhoods and we met with some people who had lost their homes, along with Governor Lowery and Senator Gorton, Senator Murray and Congresswoman Smith and Secretary Pena, and the FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, who is to my left there. It was interesting -- he introduced me to one man who was standing on the side of the street -- he said, that man ran a jackhammer for eight hours with a cracked rib. And I think that's sort of symbolic of what this community has done in the last few days.
And I just wanted to say the whole country has been touched by the pictures we've seen, moved by the losses that you've endured, but also moved by the way that you have rallied in this crisis. And I thank you very much for what you have done.
I understand that you evacuated a thousand people in 40 minutes. If that's true you could probably become police chief of Washington, D.C., or fire chief of New York City -- (laughter) -- or Denver or some big place.
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: I came here from a larger fire department, and I really like the size of Woodland. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say that -- what I want to do today is mostly hear from all these folks that are here with us, but I would like to just -- and both your elected officials and the citizens that are here. One of the things that we have really worked hard on since I've been President is trying to help make sure the federal government did its part whenever there's a natural disaster.
When I appointed James Lee Witt to head FEMA, he had headed the Emergency Management Agency of our home state of Arkansas for several years before that, and we had been inundated with floods. We had the highest per capita rate of tornadoes in America. We have picked up after every known disaster. And we really tried to work hard with people.
We know that the state and local community groups and people like the Salvation Army and all the folks that have worked here are terrific. We just want to do everything we legally can as quickly as we can to be helpful. And that's what I want to hear about today -- where are you now; how are you going to rebuild; what can we do.
Today we can announce that we will be able to provide over $26 million to the communities to help rebuild the community facilities; $10 million in emergency relief funds for federal highway damage; and $2 million to meet other emergency needs. But there will be more that has to be done, a lot more.
We believe that -- Mr. Panetta, my Chief and Staff, and I were coming out here, and we were just trying to assess what we know is the damage in Washington and Oregon and over in Idaho. We think we'll have to do a lot more, and we're prepared to do it. And I basically want to spend the rest of this time that we have here listening to the citizens and the elected officials that are here, so that when we leave here we've got a very good idea of where we are and what we need to do.
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: That sounds good. I'd like to add one short thing -- the gentleman that ran the jackhammer was not a city employee, he was a citizen from our community that donated his time. And he was out there working for about four days. He didn't even go home and take care of his own house, to my knowledge.
We also had one neighborhood that sat up the night before last a neighborhood block party with barbecues. And these were people whose homes were flooded. The spirit in this community has been phenomenal.
Is there anyone else at the table that would like to address the audience or the President?
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to start?
Q I'm a terrible public speaker, as you soon will learn. (Laughter.)
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: Go ahead, Mr. Johnston.
THE PRESIDENT: Just pretend you're not talking to the public; just pretend you're talking to us.
MR. JOHNSTON: No, we'll survive -- you're talking about -- go back sometime this summer --
THE PRESIDENT: Did you lose everything in your house?
MR. JOHNSTON: Well, 75 percent, probably, at least. We tore all the paneling out yesterday, and all of that stuff has gone to the dump already, and mattresses -- the bedroom equipment and stuff is all gone. A lot of the dressers and stuff like fell apart, so to speak, and pictures -- just all of the usual things that a family has around. And, yes, it's hard.
THE PRESIDENT: Mayor?
MAYOR GRAHAM: I'm going to add a footnote to what you and Mark have just said. On our way back, the gentleman they were referring to that was out there for four days was still there, and the President had an opportunity to get out and personally thank him. Now, I'd like to say a little bit about the effort here. I was asked to write a list of approximately 60 persons to invite here that contributed to this effort, and I had to respond that I couldn't invite the whole town. So I just make up a list I hope was representative of the community and invited individuals and had to leave a lot of people off that I would have liked to have had here, because the response was so tremendous, it even overwhelmed me.
I knew we had a good community, but I think it was must better than we had even thought amongst ourselves. (Applause.)
Q Well, our house was flooded inside about three feet, and we're now living out of suitcases at friends and families. My concern is, how long would it take to get the funding to rebuild again?
Right now, we have to wait for flood insurance assessors to come out and assess our home, then -- that would be three days -- then we would have to wait for FEMA to come out and assess our home, and it's like we're waiting. I don't know when we're going to be able to get in, and it's a little frustrating. The community's helped a lot.
Q Mr. Witt, can you address that?
MR. WITT: Did you call the 1-800 number?
Q Yes, I did.
MR. WITT: Good. What day did you call?
Q And they gave me a control number, and it just takes about five to six days to get in the computer.
MR. WITT: Well, I checked just before we flew down here just to see, and I know they were writing checks today.
Q They were?
MR. WITT: Yes. So the people in Washington State and Oregon should be starting to get their checks. And I want to tell you -- that's record time, it really is -- because it used to be at least 30 to 40 days before you would get a check until President Clinton said, cut the red tape in bureaucracy, and that's what we've done.
But you can go ahead and apply, you can get temporary housing assistance, or you can get possibly an emergency home repair assistance in lieu of temporary housing or an individual family grant. You can get the temporary housing assistance even if you have flood insurance, so you should be hearing something in just a few days.
Governor Lowery, did you have something you would like to add?
GOVERNOR LOWERY: Thank you, Mark.
First, Mr. President, on behalf of everyone in the state, we all want to thank you for coming here. In particular, we want to thank you for, in one day, after Governor Kitzhaber and I sent in the request for the emergency declaration for individuals, you signed that in one day, which put into process, which Mr. Witt just talked about, so that individuals could be moving on this. It's greatly appreciated.
That follow up on $18 million you just sent from the previous flood that we had, and you were immediately moving on that, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: That's a poor way to get federal money, having these floods. (Laughter.)
GOVERNOR LOWERY: We have some better ideas, Mr. President, but we want to say thank you and just one more word on that, Mr. President. This will clearly be the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the State of Washington. You understand, I know, that these are preliminary estimates; they look to me like at least $300 million. At least 2,600 residences have been lost. We have $63 million -- Secretary of Transportation and I were talking about -- on just the interstate highways, and then there's the -- lost 23 bridges, another's lost 30. And so it is very expensive.
But, Mr. President, again, no one has ever responded like you have to this, and on behalf of everyone in the State of Washington, thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Anyone else like to talk?
Q Mr. President, we are delighted to have you here in the State of Washington, and I want to thank you on behalf of all of our constituents here for really caring about people and coming out here to this community.
We invited you to this community on purpose, because it's a community that has really gotten out there and worked together and done what neighborhoods need to do, but we also need to recognize that the federal government has a role to step in and help communities like this, which is exactly what your administration has done, and we truly appreciate that.
These are great people here, they've done a lot of hard work, and the help and assistance we can now give them from the federal government will really make it worthwhile and I appreciate that.
I also want to tell you that, having been traveling around the state, we have a number of other areas. I was in Central Washington and a number of bridges out there -- 1,000 families still can't get from their homes to the cities, and we have a real problem emerging in the Tri Cities as well because we can't get barges with heating oil up the Columbia River and they're very worried; they're running out of heating oil.
So the problems continue to come. But having you here, having your administration so open, and personally thanking you for James Lee Witt, who has just been outstanding, we really appreciate all of your help and assistance and your caring about real people.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Let me say, first of all, on things like the heating oil issue -- these big, specific issues come up, it's very important that we know about them if there's something we can do to help, and there may be.
Governor Lowery talked about the dimensions of the losses, and I think that that's probably a conservative estimate, depending on -- you know, just based on what we've seen. We may have to come back to you, to Senator Gorton and Congresswoman Smith and to the Congress for some sort of supplemental appropriation on this, and if so, we want to do it as quickly as possible, because I don't want all of these folks out here hanging by their fingernails, full of anxiety about whether we are or are not going to be there when they need us.
THE PRESIDENT: Ms. Howell, do you want to say anything? They tell me you're great. I expected you to be able to talk all over us. (Laughter and applause.) The guys with the best seat in the house up there were clapping for you. (Laughter.)
MS. HOWELL: I do better in the radio room, but thank you. I personally would like to thank you very much for coming to Woodland. And I think having you represent -- being the President and representing our government as a whole, to come down and touch us, this little town of Woodland, to know that beyond all of us that are reaching out and helping one another, that we're holding up that, the higher-ups are right there behind us keeping us going and continuing the hope for us.
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: With that kind of support, the community of Woodland can accomplish anything.
THE PRESIDENT: Don't forget, folks, this country is made up of Woodlands . And most of us who live in bigger towns now once came from places like Woodland. So you should never --don't feel insignificant just because you're small. In some ways -- I was just telling the Mayor, I said, it must be immensely rewarding to be the Mayor of a place where you can know people, you see them. When they commit these acts of heroism and generosity you know who they are.
There are a lot of places that are so big now, it would be impossible to know whether the guy that worked a jackhammer for eight hours had a cracked rib, or not. In a place like this you know that. And that really counts for something.
SENATOR GORTON: Mr. President, it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and lord knows the people who follow you around certainly live by that.
THE PRESIDENT: A thousand pictures is worth one word. (Laughter.)
SENATOR GORTON: In this case, I think we can say that a single presence on the part of a President is worth a thousand checks, particularly when a thousand checks come along with him. But for the people of this community and for the state, that presence, that willingness to see firsthand what these people have gone through and to bless the efforts that they have done themselves, and to pledge your aid, is very, very important. This will be a meaningful day in the history of this town because you chose to come and not just to send someone else, not just to send the check, but to bring yourself as well. And that we greatly appreciate. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
CONGRESSWOMAN SMITH: Thank you. We're honored your here. I saw kids do what I did when I remember seeing President Kennedy -- now you know how old I am, about the same age as you are. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Looks better on you. (Laughter.)
CONGRESSWOMAN SMITH: The awe of the presidency. But as I was looking at it I was thinking, the one thing that you coming here has done is give us some reassurance that there will be a coordination, that it is going to be real, and that we're going to turn all this people power into cleaning up.
We do have some requests, though, and we are very concerned about -- the 1-800 number is reassuring and confusing. We have a lot of people that haven't done much with government, they're pretty independent and they feel uncomfortable with calling 1-800. We're telling them to do that, but we'd like a direct assistant site if you can. I know that you're working on that. We would be willing to work with you.
People are stunned. If you look around at some of the faces, they've cleaned up at other people's houses and they're kind of stunned. And we were out around Kalama yesterday on roads where people are still bailing. They haven't thought about how they're going to fix it, they're still bailing. So they don't need to go to Olympia or Longview, they need to come into town or a couple blocks and face a person that they can ask that same question, now what do I do.
And so that would probably help. These people were digging out before they knew there was any emergency, anything from anybody. But now, it's putting it together. And if you could do that, that would be the most that we could ask right now that you're not already doing.
THE PRESIDENT: James Lee?
MR. WITT: Yes. Linda Ramsey, with the State Emergency Management Agency, here works for the Governor. They have the lead on this. We support them in that. And they're willing to put a disaster coverage center here. And we're willing to support that as well. And what that does for community is it puts all the federal agencies and the state agencies and everyone in the same building, where they don't have to go everywhere looking for something. And so that makes a big difference.
Also, our outreach teams -- the state and FEMA outreach teams have been in the community, going door-to-door, working with people as well. And they will continue that until they get everyone covered. And they will work with the local elected officials and everyone. So they will stay here as part of the neighborhood, working with individuals, one on one, and do everything they can.
CONGRESSWOMAN SMITH: May I commend you -- I've been through the nine counties I represent; just about all but -- and I am finding your people everywhere. They are professional. I'm very impressed with the willingness to try to work with the communities, and you've done a great job.
THE PRESIDENT: May I say -- she made a point here, the Congresswoman made a point that I think is, in some ways, for all of you -- not just for us -- one of the most important things that's been said here today. A lot of the people who have been hurt by this flood are, frankly, still in shock. They have not really come -- they're still trying to come to grips with what's happened to them and grieving over the loss of family pictures, and things that seem small until you lose them and then they become big.
And I know that it's true -- whenever we go into a rural area or a set of small towns, people do feel awkward even asking for things from the government, they don't quite know how to do it. And I appreciate the response James Lee gave to you.
But I just want to remind you that I met a couple on the street that told me they'd been married 64 years this year, and I could tell they were just trying to come to grips with this.
I just ask you all to be sensitive to this. Sometimes when the flood waters go down and there's nothing for a neighbor to do that's real visible like stack the sandbags up, we forget that there's going to be a lot of scars inside. A lot of these folks are going to be hurt for a very long time, and they're going to have to try to come to grips with it. And all of us, from the federal government on down, need to be very sensitive to this. It's going to be -- there's a lot of tough things that people are going to have to deal with. The churches will have to help; everybody will.
But I really appreciate you saying that, because sometimes I think we forget that in the moment. A lot of times it comes up a week or so later, sometimes two weeks later when it's really difficult.
I want to hear from our last panelists, but before I do I want to say again -- I want to thank Secretary Pena for coming with us. And I want to recognize in the audience, as we're going back to Oregon as soon as we leave here, the presence of Senator Hatfield -- Mark Hatfield -- and Senator Ron Wyden, the new Senator from Oregon -- thank you both for being here with us.
Q Mr. President, thank you. On behalf of the citizens of Cowlitz County and on behalf of other local emergency managers throughout the state of Washington, I'd like to thank you personally, Mr. Witt, and Governor Lowery, for your quick reaction in this flood event. Your assistance and your quick reaction is going to be critical to our ability to recover and get folks back into their homes and resume life normally.
That's an indication, I think, of some changes that we've seen and the willingness for us all to work together, from the citizens to the local government, state government, federal government. And as you know, although Woodland was clearly the most devastated of the communities in Cowlitz County for this particular event, this entire county has been reeling since November 29th, with one flood event followed by a wind storm, followed by an ice storm and followed by this caper.
So I'm very impressed with the citizens of Oregon and the other citizens throughout the county who have all pulled together, as well as the emergency response community. We appreciate your help and we look forward to continuing to work together, locally, state and federal.
MS. WINTERFELD: We couldn't do it without the help of the Department of Emergency Management and Trudy's office.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Trudy.
Let me just say -- you made a point which provoked another thought in my mind. We went down Gun Club Road today, and we saw the houses on the right side of the road that were wiped out, and the houses on the left side of the road had been built recently, consistent with the federal flood standards. And as they all said, they all developed lakefront property overnight because behind all their houses is a big lake. But all those houses survived.
And I think it's worth pointing out that we've had several places in America that within the last five or six years have had two floods that went into their 100-year flood plain. And no one quite knows -- there's a lot of speculation -- one of the major news magazines had a cover story on the extreme winter weather, speculating that it was related to the phenomenon of global warming. No one really knows. But we do know that both in the winter and the summer now, we're having our weather in more extreme bursts, so that more of our precipitation is coming in more extreme bursts. And we're having also a really long, hot spells that are quite extreme. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded.
So these are things that we have to be sensitive to, and I think that it's just worth remembering as we all start the rebuilding effort that there's something to be said for honoring the building standards in the flood plain; that it may be that these aren't 100-year flood plains anymore, they may be 10-year flood plains for all we know. There may be something rather fundamental going on and there's nothing to be harmed by at least playing it safe.
Mark, anybody else want to speak?
Q Yes, sir. This will be the best, famous -- whatever adjective you can think of, sir, for a Valentine's Day that we'll never forget. (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I received a note from a young lady from this community whose middle name is Valentine because she was born on Valentine's Day, and she asked me to come by and have a piece of cake at her house. (Laughter.) The Mayor said we were too busy; I'm going to blame it on him. (Laughter.)
MAYOR GRAHAM: Thanks.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that.
MAYOR GRAHAM: Actually, we couldn't get the driver to turn the steering wheel in the right direction. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MAYOR GRAHAM: Did we have some time for questions from the audience, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Does anybody have any questions about the whole operation here?
Q Yes, I have a question in regards to the Columbia River. I work for the Port of Woodland and represent some of the other ports in the area, and we're working on a project to deepen the Columbia River, which would increase international trade. But right now, I see more of the deepening to help the flooding that happens in this area. And with the cutbacks in the Corps of Engineers, what are we going to be able to do to improve our river and keep that channel open?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know that I'm familiar enough with the project to answer. Does anyone want to comment on it? Slade or Patty or anybody?
Q That's a major goal of Senator Hatfield and Senator Wyden, and the two senators from Washington. It's something that we've joined on because, of course, there are ports on both sides of the river, and we're making at least some preliminary progress toward it, Mr. President. As you know, with EISs and feasibility studies and construction, we're looking well out into the next decade. But I think we're making real progress.
Q Mr. President, again, it is a joint project; all of us have been working on the dredging of the Columbia River. It's important for the economy in this region and obviously, because of the weather, the floods have swelled.
Again, we face the budget cuts in Washington, D.C. and I think it is something we all have to take pause at as we go through this. I have to add that one of the comments -- I just happened to stop on the side of the road as we were talking to people today, and an elderly gentleman said to me, we hear so much bad about government today, and when something like this happens, we all remember why we have neighbors in government; and I think that's an important thing we should all remember.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) But I think it's important to remember he said it right, too; it's neighbors and government -- if you had one without the other, it wouldn't work.
Q Mr. President, at the Chamber of Commerce meeting yesterday, one of the primary concerns -- the dikes. The water is receding back behind the bounds, and I guess the next question is, what are we going to ensure the integrity is still there?
MAYOR GRAHAM: Mr. Witt, do you want to comment on that?
MR. WITT: One thing that is very important, the 1993 flood in the Midwest, President Clinton signed a new bill, the Mitigation Bill, that changed the amount of dollars that would come to the state and to the cities after you've had a disaster like this. It added 15 percent to the total cost that can go to mitigation. You can prioritize mitigation projects; the state will be developing a mitigation plan, working with the local community through the mitigation team.
These mitigation projects are what you try to do to prevent this from happening again. In the Midwest, the prioritized a volunteer buyout relocation program. Over 10,000 pieces of property people volunteered, and these people were relocated, bought out and relocated.
In 10 years time in Missouri alone, that's going to save $300 million in federal, state and local tax dollars. But you can imagine the frustration it's going to save on people's lives as well.
So the mitigation part of this is very important, and the President saw that it was important when he signed that bill and changing that from the 50-50 cost share to a 75-25.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I might say in the Middle West, there has already been another flood in one of those areas where hundreds of people were saved from losing their homes a second time, but there are other ways to mitigate; you don't have to --it's just that -- that was the Mississippi and the other big rivers there, and they were way down in the flood plain and there was no practical way for them to do something like the people did on the lefthand side of Gun Club Road when I was walking down there.
So they decided that they wanted to do that, and they saved it. There are other less drastic mitigation strategies that you can follow here, and you need to just decide whether -- how you want to do with the dike or your flood wall or whatever you want to do here, and come up with a plan through the state, and you will be eligible for funds to try to implement it.
There was a question back there?
Q Basically, I think some of my question was answered. We've immediately identified some problem areas in our dikes now, and obviously, we may not be out of our weird weather yet. Is this something that we can get addressed soon, these two or three miles of identifiable problem dikes through the Corps of Engineers, or --
THE PRESIDENT: Can they use any of their public infrastructure money to fix that?
Q The Corps of Engineers has --
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, they're Corps dikes?
Q Yes. They'll make a bunch of repairs on those.
Q Can I add one thing on the dikes and the river level? I want to really thank the ham radio operators that monitored the river. The Lewis River is not monitored by any agency. There is a gauge under the Woodland Bridge that has to be watched physically when that river starts to come up. I really hope that we can get some kind of funding to put a system on that river to give us an earlier warning.
We could have alleviated, I think, even some further damage if we'd have had that. I think that needs to be included with the improvements on the dikes.
THE PRESIDENT: Sir, let me follow up on what you said. It is true that the Corps of Engineers can do that. It's also true they're probably out of money because we've had a lot of floods this year, including back in -- you probably saw the floods we had in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and Maryland back on the East Coast, so we will probably have to include some more money for the Corps of Engineers in whatever supplemental budget we do. But if we do it, they can immediately, if they have the personnel, go back and fix the dikes.
Q I live on Gun Club Road that you drove down. We can replace our stuff; you know, you can't replace lives. As long as nobody got hurt, that's what matters.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q We had no loss of life and we had no injuries. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for saying that.
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: Do we have a question over here?
THE PRESIDENT: These are, I think, the legislators from the local area. We thank them for coming out as well.
Q Mr. President, State Representative Pennington, 18th Legislative District. One of the things that Congresswoman Smith pointed out was a very valuable lesson that we have learned from the Toledo area up North, and that the people need to register with the 800 number; that is vitally important that they do that immediately.
Again, there seems to be, at times, a lack of access in the Toledo area. Can we have some assurance that FEMA will do maybe an active marketing campaign in the area to publicize that number? It's very important that people get into that number.
MR. WITT: Absolutely. The recovery channel just started here -- recovery TV channel that puts out all of the disaster information that the cable televisions and those television stations can pick up and pull down off the satellite, and they'll be notified of the times that's going to be putting that information out. Between Linda Ramsey, the State Director and our federal coordinating officer, they'll be passing out Recovery Times, which is the publication that's got all of the information in it they need, and also working with the State and the Governors Office and the State Health Department, as the President mentioned a while ago, is concerned about, we will be providing crisis counseling in communities to help people get through this.
THE PRESIDENT: Senator, you -- well, let's do this gentleman and then we'll come back to you.
Q First of all, I'd like to thank you, Mr. President, for coming down. My name is Joe Zorrelli, State Senator representing this area. I wanted to ask you about two things, and maybe these are more directed to FEMA. One of the things I've seen going on in the community of Toledo from the earlier floods back in the end of November, early December, is the issue of reventments. Over these last several decades, the Corps of Engineers has come in and built up several reventments along the Cowlitz River to reinforce the banks.
Now, what's happened over these times is that the bottoms of the rivers have raised to the point that they can't sustain as much of the flow of the river anymore. So these reventments that were blown out, all I'm hearing from the Corps is that they're only going to be able to come in, they only have the authority to rebuild them to the original height, which doesn't do us a lot of good in future situations, because the bottom of the river has risen. So I would ask that we consider that when we look at rebuilding those reventments and make that a part of the planning.
The other thing is, I wanted to ask about FEMA working with the state or the communities, counties in developing or working to improve the early -- the flood warning systems on both the Chehalis and the Cowlitz River; I think they're key in helping to prevent or save lives in the future.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to say anything about t that, James Lee?
MR. WITT: The state, working with the state and the local community -- local emergency management office, they can look at prioritizing potentially the future of using some dollars in the future for warning systems.
We're taking a serious look at using, like a 5 percent amount from mitigation dollars that the state can prioritize towards warning systems. Hopefully, we're going to be able to announce that very soon. We were trying to wait until February 26th to announce it at the State Directors National Meeting in Washington.
So you may be in a good position to receiving some of that.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Panetta says, drawing on his experience as former Chairman of the House Budget Committee, so he knows this stuff -- (laughter) -- he says if we get the money to the Corps, he believes they have some flexibility to rebuild on the reventments as a part of the mitigation plan. So we need the -- I would think that you all should work with the Governor and try to make that a part of the mitigation plan, because obviously that's what we're trying to do, to go back to his question. We're trying to minimize the chance of this occurring again. So I would urge you to make sure that you make that a priority, and then we'll try to make sure whatever we can do whatever is necessary to give the Corps the legal authority to do it.
Yes, sir. There's a gentleman in the back there. We're bringing you a microphone.
Q Not a question, a comment -- is, there are two groups of people that have been largely overlooked in this flood, in the early stages, that I think the Town of Woodland owes a large thank-you to, and that is all of the inmates of the Larch Mountain Corrections Facility, all the Hispanics in the farm communities down here who worked through Thursday, throughout the whole night Thursday night, sandbagging -- in the dike; that without those two groups of people, it could have been a very different scenario in this town. (Applause.)
Q I agree with you, and we want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: There's another question back there.
Q Mr. President, I'm Sean Taylor. I'm the ASB President from Woodland High School. I'd just like to make a comment to everybody here that if you have kids or grandkids that attend the high school or the middle school, their work out there these last couple of days, I mean, driving around watching them, it was amazing to see all the youth in the community coming together. We're really impressed by it at the school, and I hear stories every day of, you know, I did this and this this weekend, and I sandbagged here and there. And I just think that the youth in the community have really come together, and I think it's a big step for our school and our community.
And that's about it. But I have tape for you, too, here to come pick up, Mr. President, of the jazz band of Woodland High School. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Send it up here.
The gentlemen here in the blue jacket there.
Q I don't have a question as much as a comment. When the floods started, if it wasn't for the restaurants in this town, we couldn't have done any work because they fed us. No questions asked. They delivered food around the clock, and the kids and some of the other people here delivered it. If they didn't feed us, we couldn't do our jobs.
Q They fed us very well. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Is there a question back here? There's someone with a hand up over here to the right. And then there's a lady over here. I'm running you guys crazy. (Laughter.) This guys a -- he's with us, and he needs the exercise. (Laughter.) This is part of my, you know, get my staff fit campaign. (Laughter.)
Q Happy Valentine's Day, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir.
Q I just wanted to say that about 6:50 a.m. in the morning on Friday morning, the work finally got to the point where a decision had to be made. The dike was having a lot of problems and our crew was kind of low. We had some people getting some much needed sleep. And we got the word out to a couple of television stations, and I think within 30 to 60 minutes, Tammy, we had a hundred people out helping with the sandbag crews. And I am just so impressed with the teamwork. And each person is just one length in a huge chain that wraps around this community.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Now, there are two over. Two people over here. There are two over there. You can stay now. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you for coming to Woodland, Mr. President. I'm one of your supporters that writes you letters from Woodland, although you probably never see them.
THE PRESIDENT: Keep them coming.
Q One of my concerns is the possibility that Congress could close down the government in March -- will that interfere with the help needed for this area?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don't think that's going to happen. And I believe that the leaders have made it pretty clear that we don't think that's going to happen. And I believe that we will pass the legislation necessary to -- the Congress can't act on it until we draw it up. We have to get up the supplemental appropriation necessary to provide the funds here. But as soon as we know it, what they are, we have -- you know, it's going to take us a while because we can't keep -- we want to do it all at once. But I believe that as soon as we know the Congress will act appropriately. I wouldn't worry about that I think they'll take care of it.
THE PRESIDENT: Do you have a question, young lady? You want to ask a question. She had her hand up. Do you want to ask a question. Do you want to say something? I don't blame you, that's the right thing to do.
Q Mr. President, she wants to wish you a Happy Valentine's Day. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: See, I had to have valentines with my little girl last night. So I need a valentine today. Thank you very much.
DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF ANDERSON: We've been given the signal that we've run out of time. The President is on a very tight schedule today. I would like to thank each and every one of you for being here. I want to thank the officials. The members of this community have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are one team and not just Woodland. It doesn't stop at the city limits of Woodland. It's the whole community and people surrounding us. Thank all of you for everything that you've done and thank you for being here.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)
END 12:05 P.M. PST