THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Grand Forks, North Dakota) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 22, 1997
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN BRIEFING ON FLOOD DAMAGE BY LOCAL OFFICIALS
Enlisted Club Grand Forks Air Force Base Grand Forks, North Dakota
1:58 P.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, let me say to all of you that I'm honored to be here with the people from our administration. Thank you, Mayor Owens and Mayor Stauss, the other mayors that are here. I thank Senator Conrad and Senator Dorgan, Senator Daschle, Senator Johnson who came in with me, and Senator Wellstone and Senator Grams who met us, and Congressman Pomeroy and -- and Congressman Peterson who met us here; Governor Shaefer, Governor Carlson. I also want to thank all the people who came with me from my administration -- the Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo, the Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater; Aida Alvarez, our Small Business Administration; and Togo West, the Secretary of the Army.
I want to thank the Air Force, the National Guard, the Red Cross, the Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Salvation Army and all the people at the state and local government and the community groups that have worked so hard on this endeavor.
Today we saw, obviously, these two communities that have been so devastated, but we know that there is a lot of other loss in North and South Dakota and Minnesota. We're going to meet with people now and I'm going to get a briefing from people who have, unbelievably, dealt with blizzards, floods and fires, all at the same time. I have never seen that before. And when I saw pictures of some of you stacking sandbags in a blizzard, I thought that I had bad reception on my television at first. It was an amazing thing. I don't recall ever in my life seeing anything like this. And I've been very impressed by the courage and the faith that all of you have shown in the face of what has been a terrible, terrible dilemma.
I want to say before we start this roundtable discussion that we are going to do everything we can to move as quickly as possible to do as much as can be done to help. I want to be briefed by everyone here at the table. And James Lee Witt has already talked to me quite extensively about this over, as you might imagine, a long period of time now. But I wanted to say that there are three things I'd like to announce first.
First of all, before I left the White House this morning, I authorized FEMA to provide 100 percent of the direct federal assistance for all of the emergency work undertaken by federal agencies in the 149 counties where disasters have been declared. (Applause.) We will do this retroactively from the moment that the counties were recognized as disaster areas, which I hope will relieve the state and local governments from the worry of whether or not they're be able to actually afford to help the citizens and the communities through the clean-up.
We do this only in the most difficult of circumstances. Normally, the reimbursement rate is 75 percent. But anyone who has been here and seen the destruction, as I have, knows that this is not an ordinary disaster, if there is such a thing. The people here are giving 100 percent, and we should, too.
Second, we are dramatically expanding FEMA's public assistance grant program. We'll add 18 counties in Minnesota and 53 counties in South Dakota today. And these counties also will be eligible for funds for repair and restoration of their communities after the waters subside. Let me also say that we expect to make additional counties in North Dakota and Minnesota eligible for this assistance as soon as we can fully assess the damage that they have sustained.
The third thing I'd like to say is that today I'm asking Congress to approve an additional $200 million of contingency emergency funds for North and South Dakota and for Minnesota. I've asked that these funds be made available both for short-term emergency response activities and for long-term efforts to help the region to rebuild in the aftermath of the flood. If approved, this action will bring to $488 million the total amount of disaster assistance we've requested for the people of the states.
Finally, I'm directing our FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, to lead an interagency task force to develop and direct a long-term recovery plan for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. We know that this is going to be a long-term effort.
And when we were coming in today, one of the things that I was just noting based on my now 20-plus years of experience in dealing with things like this -- although I have never seen a community this inundated by flood, this large a community -- we have to deal with the long-term problems. And you have to know that we can be relied on to be there in all these communities over the long-run.
The only other thing I'd like to say, Madam Mayor, to you and the other officials, you know this already, but a lot of people are still almost in shock, I'm sure, and have not had time to focus on some of the things which will make the losses most painful -- the things that have been lost in these homes, the records of family occasions, the letters from World War II, the letters from the kids that go off to college, all the things that people will have to come to grips with in the days ahead. And I know that $488 million or $4 billion wouldn't make that go away. But at least we want you to know that we are going to be there over the long run.
And the rest of America has, I think, looked with great compassion and pain, but also enormous admiration at the heroic conduct of the people of this community and of all these states in the last several days when they've gone through things that most of the rest of us can't imagine. We could never imagine facing a flood and a fire and a blizzard all at the same time. And we admire you greatly and we're going to do what we can to be there with you over the long haul.
Thank you. (Applause.)
DIRECTOR WITT: Thank you, Mr. President, Mayor Owens. I'm looking forward to working with you in some long-range planning and redevelopment.
First, I'd like to, on behalf of myself and the President and all the members of the Cabinet that are here, we want to thank all of you that have worked so hard to help save homes, save communities. About a month ago I was in South Dakota; a few weeks ago I was here with the Vice President and spent two days, and I saw the fight that the Corps of Engineers and the volunteers and the people, the students and the kids and everybody made.
But I want to tell you, I don't think I've ever seen a fight between your congressional delegation in a bipartisan way to help meet that need -- to help individuals, and they're to be commended for what they've done for that.
But we're going to work with the mayors and local communities, the state, your adjutant general in North Dakota and Jim Franklin in Minnesota, in South Dakota, the state director, and the governors in putting together the best possible plan that we can to help build the infrastructure. And all the Cabinet members the President has asked to work on this -- we will work with you and have a long-term recovery plan in place. The President has charged us with this, and we accept that responsibility and will move forward.
The immediate care of individuals is critical, Mr. President. The long-term housing situation is going to be critical that all these people are going to be facing. So we will put together with the local officials and the state something to help meet those needs.
MAYOR OWENS: Mr. President, Mr. Witt, it is indeed a pleasure today to address you and relive the story of what has happened over the past month within our community. I speak on behalf of myself and Mayor Lynn Stauss from East Grand Forks, Minnesota. We have a saying between us before this started, and we still say that -- we have no river between us. We work as a joint community. We are the Greater Grand Forks Community.
You coming today, Mr. President, you bring us hope -- and Mr. Witt. Your announcement is the first time that I have become so emotionally involved that you wouldn't believe it, because I looked at the city yesterday and today from a helicopter, and it's just unreal. So that will give us hope for the future that we can rebuild, and we really appreciate that. There isn't anything that I can say for our communities to thank you enough for that.
Your presidential disaster declaration back to February 28th was enough to give us hope also. We knew that there were people in Washington -- yourself as leader of our country -- that are looking after us. And indeed, you are our angels.
This morning, when I got ready -- I was getting ready to come here to meet the President, Mayor Stauss and I were talking. We didn't have water for -- he still doesn't have water at this point. I thought, what do I wear? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It looks good. (Laughter.)
MAYOR OWENS: What you wear when you come to this is you wear the heart and soul of our communities. You wear the integrity of our communities and the strength of our communities. And you bring that forth.
We have had in the past winter, I believe eight or nine storms. We have had to deal with that for the past six months. About a month ago, we had the most tremendous ice storm. All our power lines were down within the region. We had no power, no heat. On top of that, we got a snowstorm again as we were building the dikes, and the water was starting to come in. It was just overwhelming to our communities. But our people hung together, and they really tackled the problem head on.
Then, the flood waters came. We were working out of our emergency operation centers within the two cities. I believe that there are people that have worked almost two to three weeks practically 20 hours a day or more. It was very, very disheartening after watching the individuals put all their heart and soul into saving our community to watch the dikes slowly disintegrate.
I cried when I heard that the point area of East Grand Forks -- the first dike, I believe, that went -- I did cry because that is my hometown from before. And, Mayor Stauss, my heart went out to you, and I haven't been able to reach you until today.
I was pretty much involved with the EOC center, but I did get a call one morning at 1:20 a.m. in the morning -- I believe it was on a Thursday or Friday morning. And it was Ken Vein, our city engineer, and his crews telling me to come down there immediately. And I knew in my heart what there was to face. I walked in that door, and I saw a whole tableful of engineers with a devastated look on their face, near tears, but still with the strength to carry on. They told me what was happening -- our dikes were failing, they were starting to leak. And they were bound and determined they were going to hold them together.
They were working -- we struggled through that night trying to think what we could do. We patched, we put clay. The clay supply was even gone. It was covered over with the flood waters. So we were limited in our resources. But they didn't dishearten. They kept working on the map and trying to work our way through. And we kept working, and the community kept working. And it was just absolutely overwhelming, but it did break my heart to see these people who had worked diligently watch those dikes slowly disintegrate.
We had prepared better than we ever have for a 49-foot flood with a three foot freeboard. But it wasn't enough. The water just kept rising. Not only did our dikes give way, but we had to evacuate people. We started our evacuations of the city at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. We evacuated the Lincoln Drive area, and I believe those people just barely got out of there before the flood waters rushed through. Slowly our city and East Grand Forks -- we started to evacuate. We have evacuated in Grand Forks another area at 5:15 a.m. We made announcements. The news media have hung by us and handled it just absolutely great. We made announcements not to panic the people -- to give them orders where to go. And the people were just great to follow these orders.
After our dikes failed and we had to keep continually moving people out, our water plant failed. So, we had no water. Gas and electricity were being turned off, and slowly it was eating up all our neighborhoods. The communities, the region and the nation came forth like you would not believe. We have people housed throughout the areas in shelters. I have never seen the call to attention like I have at this point.
I took a helicopter ride yesterday, and my home also is surrounded by water. I'm not sure of the damage. My 93-year-old father had to be evacuated by Coast Guard two days ago from his farm south of East Grand Forks. And that was very devastating. He's not ever left his farm. He's staying out here at the Grand Forks Air Force Base with us.
I was facing the problem of my daughter in Fargo, North Dakota -- she had the flood waters one block away from her -- and struggling with Mayor Furness to try and keep up with the city. And God bless you -- you built a dike. I didn't have that one to face.
I have watched the people in the EOC center -- the young engineers who have worked so hard on this project. One of them the night the dikes were failing called me aside and he was crying. And I -- he said it -- it's my fault. I said, it's not your fault. I said, you have struggled until the end. You have worked as hard as you can. You have won because you have worked until the very end. There is nothing more you can. But it is not your fault. And it was really tragic -- the mental capacity of these people -- because they were taking it upon themselves because these individual dikes had failed -- that it was their fault.
Now, we are all working together to rebuild. Some of the things that have come up are just overwhelming. I know in my heart why I am leading this city. The other night I had an opportunity to visit one of the shelters here on the base. It's at Aisleson (phonetic) School. It is St. Ann's Guest Home and some of our special needs people. It was just overwhelming to see the support in there when you walk in there.
I had an opportunity to meet two of my disabled people that I just always visit and just think the world of. And they had their pets in their apartment -- there was a cat and two pet rats, which have kept them going for several years. And they had left their pets because they had to get out. They handed me their key and asked if I could get their pets out. Lo and behold, I knew the Lord was looking after us because I turned around, and here is a gentlemen in a red vest with the National Humane Society written across it. And I handed the key over to him, and then he took care of it. And I did not know it would be quite so easy.
There was one lady in there who was waiting to go home. She couldn't wait to go home. I did not have the courage to tell her, her building was one of the buildings that burned downtown. We lost 11 buildings in the downtown fire. We cannot thank enough the armed forces and South Dakota and park system who came in to fight that fire because we just could not do it on the ground. Our own firefighters who so diligently went in there and risked their lives to save 20 people who were in an apartment. They were very fortunate that they could get those people out.
Right now, I believe where we are at is we are -- the reality has hit. We have to get back to some form of normalcy. We are in our recovery period. The time is now. I think of Mrs. Clinton's words -- and she used it with the children. But right now, all of us together -- the whole population -- it's going to take a village to rebuild. And we will work together, and we will rebuild.
I cannot thank enough the agencies like FEMA and the Red Cross, the Small Business, Job Service -- all the different agencies that have worked together to hold us through in the last several weeks as we have worked with these people.
I believe in my heart, at this point, we have won the battle. We have lost no lives within the two communities. We have much to be thankful for because it was very, very hard to evacuate people. People were having a very difficult time leaving and turning away from their homes. But we are all here today, at least, to help build together. And we will rebuild.
We have the spirit and love in the community like you have never seen in your life. People are upbeat even though they are under duress and have lost everything they've worked for all their lives. They still have a kind word and still say, we will rebuild. We will be stronger.
What we need to do now is get people back on track. People need to know, where is their paycheck coming from now; where they are going to live in the future; what are they doing to do while they are rebuilding their homes; how can they get their small businesses started and so forth? So, these are the types of things that we will need a lot of help from the agencies to put back on track.
My greatest worry is we do not want to lose our citizens at this time. We want to have it as comfortable as possible for them while they try to rebuild their homes and businesses. And we as mayors will work with you to try and do this.
And President Clinton, you give us hope. You are a bright star right now within our community. I believe you are part of the Midwest because you are a people person. I have seen that in you, and we thank you so much.
Mr. Witt, you also. You have shown such great respect for the people of our community and what they are doing. And we thank you for what you have done for us. We have hope for the future because of the strength you have given us. You have given us courage in face of devastation. You have given us faith which has really been tested in the last several weeks.
I come to one thing as I conclude today, and as I was walking with you, the phrase came to me and I wrote it down. And I believe within our communities, the people that have lost their homes and possibly lost their business and all of their possessions have had a tear in their eye and wiped it and went on to help the other people within the community, which has just amazed me. I tell you, I'm so proud to lead this community. But one of the phrases I have in my heart -- you people here helping us -- is the phrase from the Bible that says, "It's my brother. He's not heavy." And we will rebuild. And we will be much stronger in the future. And we will be there -- Lynn Stauss and I will be in the boat until the last dog leaves. We have worked together, and we just cannot thank you enough for bringing us hope for our communities. And like I said, we will rebuild.
The hardest part is going to be when people are taken back to their homes and we see what's happened there. But we will be there to be their strength and give them courage. And you have helped us to do that.
And the next time you come, you will see a city back thriving. So, thank you. (Applause.)
At this time, I would like to introduce to you a gentleman who I have followed for the last couple of weeks. I think he's tired of me because I have been his shadow because I knew he had good direction and I knew he was putting his heart and soul into the community. That is Mr. Ken Vein. He is our city engineer and director of public works. And without you, Ken, we could not be at the point we are at right now. We would have lost lives. And I just can't tell you how much I value you within our community and within our city employment.
MR. VEIN: Thank you.
Mr. President, Mr. Witt, I think the Mayor pretty eloquently described the destruction, and you've seen it, of course, from the air. It was very devastating to me personally when we were attempting to keep adding on to our dikes to stay ahead of the water, when we ran out of high ground and the water started coming in. That water inundated first on low area, filled up our storm sewer systems, then went in a domino effect until the whole city was pretty much inundated.
Today much of that water continues to inundate and expand in some of the areas that presently don't have any water on their streets. We hope that that is coming to an end shortly. The river is near a crest.
But the effect to us was very devastating. Our water treatment plant was completely inundated and is out of service. Our water distribution system is out of water and contaminated. Our storm sewer system, of course, is filled. Our sanitary sewer system has been covered and filled with water. Of our 37 lift stations, only five remain, are intact.
A big effect has been on our transportation system. There are very few streets that you can get down anymore. Seventy-five percent of the city, of course, is inundated and has been evacuated. Much more of that has water and only time will tell when that is evacuated also.
The effects, of course, are just very, very costly and very time-consuming to get back up. The citizens here have no basic services in sewer and water. We're also dealing with the other utilities such as maintaining electricity and the like.
Many of the areas that are inundated will and can never be rebuilt. There are homes that are floating or have moved off their foundations. The overall impact, of course, is going to be for us to try to work and get a solution to this. We are working on that at this time. But there's not much infrastructure left that remains. We are worried about the street systems. The water has such a current to it that it is eroding new banks, new channels. We're trying to control that as much as possible. We still have overland flooding coming around us that we're trying to stop at the same time. So we are not in a very good shape when it comes to supplying the essential services to get the people back here again.
We're working diligently to do that. But we know it will be very, very time-consuming to bring those things up. Again, our water plant has four to six feet over it. We are going to have to wait until the waters recede before we can get in and start trying to do any repairs. But it's just going to be a long, long time, and we don't know the conditions of even our underground sewers -- both storm sewers and sanitary sewers.
To do a full assessment of our losses will take some time after the waters have gone down. We hope to put a team together as quickly as possible. We'll work with FEMA to do that and try to get our city back up and operating as soon as possible.
MAYOR OWENS: Thank you.
Mr. President, Mr. Witt, I now would like to introduce one of the unsung heroes of our flood. He's a young man who we are very proud to have as a city employee, as a firefighter, and one who has risked his life to save 20 people and helped us to keep our record. We have lost no lives. Randy Johnson, who is a fire fighter with the Grand Forks Fire Department.
MR. JOHNSON: Mr. Mayor, Mr. President. A bit ironic -- the very thing that firefighters rely on when they fight fires is water; and for a short time, the very thing that prevented us from doing our jobs the way we would like to do them was the water.
The flood came up so quickly and when the downtown buildings began to burn they moved so fast, probably the only thing that moved faster than the waters. We had several people that immediately went to find out the situation, to do further evacuations. We had done -- days before we had tried to get people out of the buildings that surrounded the security building where the fire started.
When we first got a boat nearest the fire, Deputy Chief O'Neill, Battalion Chief Jerry Anderson were on that boat. They saw that we still had people up in that building. That was our priority at that time, to find a way to get them out. They weren't aware at that time of the circumstances of staying.
We got a military vehicle come in as soon as possible to provide a way out. Firefighters made entry into the building as soon as possible. Very little firefighter safety -- they weren't able to use a lot of big gear that we normally use to fight fires. Our air packs were not able to be brought with us. They made their way as fast as they could to the building, evacuating 20 people.
Once we got them to safety, it was then possible for us to try and get a means to fight the fire. Thanks to the firefighters in Fargo, North Dakota, they provided us the idea of putting our fire engines on the trailers, something we had never even considered. We're still doing that right now. We fought the fires downtown; we've fought several house fires that have started after that. With help from the Grand Forks Airport we have had a crash rescue vehicle come in that can make its way on its own through the downtown. We have a massive water supply available with that.
So we were able to take care of the buildings that were burning downtown in time -- not as quickly as we would have like due to the flood. But it was the finest group of people I've ever worked with. Some of the things they did were nothing less than remarkable. They didn't get a chance to see their families off in many situations. They had that on their minds as they're going up and evacuating these other families from the fire.
I watched as my brother's apartment building burnt to the ground, knowing what he was going through. It's one of the hardest things that some of the firefighters have ever been through. No one can remember when this has happened. But they're as solid as a group can be. We're a united group; we're a family above anything else. And we will fight to continue to do our jobs. We will fight afterwards when even more work is necessary. And together, we will make sure that everybody comes out of this, as the Mayor said, stronger and be able to serve this city even better in the future. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MAYOR OWENS: Mr. President and Mr. Witt, I'd like to present Mr. Jim Shothorse. He's our public health inspector. He has been a guardian of the EOC Center for the last couple weeks also, working on adrenalin, not much sleep, and still looking after the welfare of our community.
MR. SHOTHORSE: Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. Witt, for coming to Grand Forks to help our community. As we move into the recovery phase we face from a public health standpoint a number of issues.
Grand Forks is a medical center in northeastern North Dakota and Minnesota, and we've lost our hospital. So one of the things that was remarkable is the combined effort of the National Guard, the Coast Guard and the Air Force to evacuate all of our citizens and reestablish those citizens that were ill to different areas around the region here.
Right now one of the things that we face is something that people don't ordinarily expect, something simple like washing your hands to prevent disease transmission. Also, the sewage -- right now we're in the process and one of my jobs right now is to locate sewage sites for people so they can take care of business. And another aspect of the flood waters is all the water is contaminated and, of course, the water system -- Ken mentioned about the water system. So we're attempting to get part of the water sites to people so that the residents who are still here -- most of the town has been evacuated, but there are still sections of town that haven't been evacuated, and it's critical that we get water to those people and sewage disposal sites for them.
One of the things that we face in confined quarters like we have had to face is disease transmission. And at the same time you have a group of people that closely compacted together, a simple cold by one individual spreads to many individuals, the same way as influenza and other types of diseases like that. And one thing that we still haven't all faced yet is the fact of the crisis of mental health and how people handle the loss -- things that you lose when you lose your home.
So, with that, those are some of the things that we have to face. And Mayor Owens has talked about what we have to do and we're all ready to do it. (Applause.)
MAYOR OWENS: Before I introduce our next person I would like to say one thing for all of here at this table, and I forgot in my tension of talking, and there is no words between our two communities that we can put forth to express a thank-you for the actions of our own citizens, our people, and the nation. It's been overwhelming, and we just want them to know that they are our strength. These are the people that have helped us to carry on through this. And there are times I don't know how we've done it except it's a pat on the back, a phone call, a citizen that says, good job, even though they've lost their homes and so forth. And we just cannot thank all these people enough. So we do not want to forget anyone, but you know you are in our prayers every day. (Applause.)
I would now like to introduce a gentleman who lives on the other side of the bridge, I guess -- East Grand Forks resident, Curt Kruen. He is a gentleman who is sitting here today that you would never know anything happened to. So you are representative of all our people. He has lost not only his home, but he's also lost his business.
Mr. President, I present Mr. Kruen.
MR. KRUEN: Thank you for coming, Mr. President and Mr. Witt. At this time I'd really like to thank all the people in Cruxton and Bobingee (phonetic) and Deep River Falls and the surrounding areas that have helped us at this point with the evacuation people. It's very important. And also I'd like to take time to thank our middle school people and our high school people who put in a tremendous effort to help save East Grand Forks. It's very, very important that these people realize how important they are to us right now.
The community outside of East Grand Forks has had their arms open. They've taken us in. They've done everything they possibly can. And I can say we definitely appreciate that.
One of the other things I guess I was asked to do when I came here is give somewhat of a scenario of what Mrs. Owens also stated -- how things worked. I started out at Sandbag Central kind of coordinating East Grand Forks with Grand Forks. Then from that point in time -- I was there about two weeks -- my position changed to transportation person to help logistically put sandbags, and I guess Mr. Shothorse was doing the same thing, on the dikes and along the dikes.
And as things became more critical, one of the people at DOC asked me to take and help run one of the dikes along the river, and that was from Timberland Court down 5th Avenue, Southeast. It was about a six or eight-block area. And the first thing that happened that Friday was the dike was so close to being -- the water was so close to coming over the dike, is I called the police department and had the police department going up and down the streets asking the residents to come out and help sandbag. They did that. They were very responsive. And in about 15, 20 minutes I had 150 people there sandbagging along this dike. Without them, that dike would have broken at that point in time. All these people were sleeping; there would have been a disaster, more so than we have now.
So I thank those neighbors of mine, which I live a short distance away, just a few blocks. After that, we met that crisis at that time. Then basically the same thing happened. We developed a hole in the clay dike. We were working on that. We ringed that dike with sandbags. We held that dike. The dike was washing away. One of the residents, a very good friend of mine, she became very hysterical. And not only do you have to take charge of this, but you also have to feel for the people that are working with you. You take and hold them in your arms and you tell them it will be all right, which you probably know it won't be. But you keep fighting.
We managed with the help of the middle school at that point in time, we managed to get sand and we made bags. Our middle school kids went through about 30 yards of sand and bags in about three hours, and we held off one more close call. Then the third time came along and we were basically back in the same boat. I was trying to get -- I had a payloader stuck in a guy's backyard. We were taking the dirt out of his backyard trying to put it up against the dike to hold back the dike. And then all of a sudden, these trucks came from Cruxton with sandbags on them -- that's our neighboring community. They saved the day one more time.
Then we were working down a little bit further and at that point in time, another friend of mine realized that her home was going to go and we had to fill her basement with water. And that was very emotional as well. She's been a longtime friend of mine, and she knew that her house was going to be destroyed. So you take those people and you take -- feel that responsibility of those people, of their homes and their lives, and you feel that it's your job.
But at that point in time, we had a break at the other end of -- way down, six blocks away, down there by the Point Video area, and that wall of water was coming. I got a call on the radio again and another dike had broken by the group home on the other end. We went over there. We were able to patch that hole. We were throwing sandbags in there and the sandbags were washing away like tennis balls. We came with a tractor crawler, put clay in there, and we stopped that dike -- or that leak in the dike.
And then the dike that broke earlier broke again and that wall of water kept coming. And as we went through, we realized that it was not going to stop. At that point in time we had to make the decision to evacuate these people and give them at least the 10 or 15 minutes that they had to grab whatever belongings that they could and leave. We got them on the Guard trucks and along with that -- some people got pets, some people didn't. And along with that, another good friend of mine was standing there, and he knew he was going to lose his home as well as did I. I hadn't had the time to take anything out of my basement at that time, or anything out of my home. I just told my wife to grab a few clothes, and she left on the Guard truck.
I stayed to get the rest of the people evacuated. And I was moving some stuff out of my house, or out of my basement, which now didn't make any difference anyway because it's on the main floor. You know, I tried. But then a National Guard gentleman came and asked you to leave -- my own home. And that was a very, very disheartening feeling -- when you're asked to leave your home and the water is running down the street. And you've already seen your neighbors and your friends lose their home, and it's almost beyond comprehension of the feeling that you get.
And we're not in the same boat -- I know Bridgie Henson (phonetic) has five kids; she's in the audience today. She's in the same shoes as we are. And you can't believe the emotion -- and I see Jim over there the same way I am -- you can't believe the emotion that goes through your mind and your heart when you can't stop something that you know is going to devastate your friends.
And, Mr. President, at this point in time, I would like to ask you -- what you've already done, was to FEMA; and Mr. Colin Peterson over there has done a great job, and our other representatives from Minnesota -- they you please help these people with immediate needs. They need that now. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, Mayor and to all of you who spoke, I thank you for what you said and for how you said it and for what you've done. And the pain with which you spoke I think only showed the rest of us that you were speaking for all the people in these communities. And I thank you for that.
I wonder if, Mr. Witt, if you could comment, or any of the people that we brought with us can comment on the question of the immediate need -- the immediate need for housing, even for basic toilet facilities, or these things -- these basic immediate -- (gap in tape) --
DIRECTOR WITT: -- and we have found that the best way to meet the immediate housing need, which we'll be working with your communities on, is to use a camper trailer that people can set beside their home while they rebuild their home. Because if we can get the sewer and the water back up in operation, then you can hook that up right there at the home. And it costs a lot less money, but it's more effective because people are right there with their property as they repair and rebuild. It works really well. And this is something that we'll be working with the communities and help to do that.
Also what's concerning me a great deal, too, is the fact that the whole community is out of place, everything disrupted -- mail service, where do you get your checks, where do you get your Social Security checks. We need to work, help to do that, and we have the right people to do that and work with you.
But the most important thing is for individuals, business and homeowners alike, to make an application to FEMA or SBA. Our programs will not make people whole. They're not set up to make people whole. They're set up to help people to get started back again. The public assistance program for communities are programs to help rebuild the infrastructure of the community. And all of us will do everything we can in our power and our regulations and our laws to help support you in doing that effort. And I think we can do that. We've done it before.
The 1993 floods in the Midwest, we had nine states, 500 counties affected by floods. And they're built back better than they were before. So there's hope. And we'll be here with you. The President's made a commitment to help make that hope happen.
THE PRESIDENT: We've got the entire congressional delegation from North Dakota and from South Dakota, and they came to see me as one a couple of weeks ago. And I really appreciated it. I don't think even they were prepared for what's happened since then. But they did come and made me aware of what was going on.
And, of course, we have Senator Wellstone and Senator Grams and your Congressman Colin Peterson here from Minnesota. And I wonder if any of them, or Governor Shaefer or Governor Carlson would like to either make a comment or ask a question.
Senator Dorgan, Senator Conrad, either one of you have anything you want to say?
SENATOR CONRAD: Well, Mr. President, first of all, we want to thank you. We want to thank you for coming today; we want to thank you for your rapid declaration of the presidential disaster because that did give hope.
What sticks in my mind I think is a headline in the Grand Forks Herald that said "The Day That Changed Everything." I think that kind of sums it up. We have been hit with an unprecedented series of disasters -- the greatest snowfall in our history, followed by the most powerful winter storm in 50 years, followed by a flood that is the greatest flood in 500 years, followed by massive fires. I don't think any community has ever had that set of disasters to deal with. So we're going to need extraordinary help to face an extraordinary set of disasters.
We thank you for what you've already done. We thank you for the announcements today. I have to tell you, we're going to need even more because we've had an entire community here evacuated and told they won't be able to come home for perhaps three or four weeks. It is going to take a Marshall Plan type of effort.
And I am so pleased you have had James Lee Witt take command of this undertaking because I think he has the vision to help us mount that kind of massive recovery effort. Thank you. (Applause.)
SENATOR DORGAN: Mr. President, I, too, want to thank you very much for coming. You have heard from folks from North Dakota and Minnesota that this river can break a dike, but it cannot break the human spirit. This is a community and this is a region with tough people, wonderful, hardworking people. And we're all now going to have to face a significant challenge to rebuild.
The crisis yet continues today -- the crest, of course, is just now being reached and it's going to be some while before the crisis is over. After that, your discussion of a long-term recovery program is very important. What your Chief of Staff said yesterday at the White House to us about the potential or the need for a kind of Marshall Plan of sorts for this region of the country is very important.
This kind of challenge we face is unlike any that's been faced in the country. This kind of a circumstance would have one impact in a state like California, but a much more devastating impact in a region like this, just because we have fewer people and a much greater challenge.
So we very much appreciate your being here. It gives us great heart and great hope. All of us will work on a bipartisan basis as public officials as well with you to see that we meet this challenge to our future. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE: Mr. President, as the dikes were being breached on the North Dakota side, the frantic efforts to try and devise a fall-back plan were keyed by an engineer with the Corps of Engineers, a very talented young woman, who was looking at the topography maps and crying as she said, there's no high ground. We've got no high ground to hook a dike into -- typically, a fall-back strategy. And really, that is the shape of the community, as you can see from the air -- no component, not the financial, not the business, not the university -- any single component of this community out of the water. It is all hit. So we don't really have a toehold even to begin the reconstruction.
We'll have to do it all at once, and what that means is, I think we're going to have to look at new, flexible and creative ways in the long-term recovery program and as we construct the disaster package. Having the flexibility to deal with issues that we can't even begin to think of today will be a critical part of it. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. Thank you.
SENATOR DASCHLE: Mr. President, being from South Dakota, let me also say how grateful we are to you and your administration for the remarkable responsiveness that you have demonstrated time and again as we have faced these disasters. James Lee and many of the members of your administration have virtually had to get apartments in our states because they're here so often. And we appreciate the fact that they're here and they have provided the kind of leadership that they have.
This is Earth Day, and I think it's a day for us to reflect on how we might ensure that the environment and the value of this great Earth can be protected, but we also recognize the magnitude of the Earth's forces. And this is probably as great a demonstration of that force that I've ever seen.
But what's equal to that force is the force of the community that I see as I come here, just as we see as we come to the communities in our state. The force of volunteerism, the force of heroism, the force of leadership given the remarkable mayor that you have here in Grand Forks -- those forces, too, are ones that we acknowledge and appreciate very much.
If there's anything that I think we can do in the next few weeks, it seems to me it's the amount of resources that we can dedicate to this problem, the speed with which we need to dedicate those resources, and the flexibility we need to ensure that those resources can be used in the best possible way. There are a lot of different tools. Mr. President, one of the tools that I think could be very helpful as we consider how to use those resources is the community development block grant funding. That is absolutely essential to give the communities and the states the flexibility they need to get the job done.
But, once again, we thank you profusely for all you've done to make it possible for us thus far. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE: Mr. President, I want to share the comments of my colleague from South Dakota. We in the Northern Plains have gone through a remarkable series of events, as has been so well stated this afternoon. And I just want to say very briefly again, thank you for the immediate personal attention that you have given both on the very day that the blizzard disaster request came to your office, you responded positively. On the very day that the flood disaster request came to your office, you responded personally and directly and immediately. That has meant a lot to us.
James Lee Witt and the rest of your administration responded in a very constructive, positive fashion as well. The fact that you have brought with you some of the leading people in your administration from health care to social services to highways to housing to listen firsthand to these reports I think means a lot to us in the Northern Plains. We don't need people in Washington sitting behind desks reading reports; we need people here listening firsthand to the real crisis, the real life problems that people are facing on a day by day basis here.
So I want to share the comments of my colleagues relative to the immediacy of the disaster, that you're doing, I think, all that can be done right now, but also to acknowledge that we have a very long-term problem here, and that, while we have a lot of programs and departments and Cabinet offices out there, there's a great need for flexibility and for all of them to work together in a seamless fashion as we craft that long-term strategy to bring back a viable and thriving economy in the Grand Forks area, all across North Dakota and Minnesota and South Dakota as well. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE: Mr. President, I also want to say what's been said already, and that's thank you very much. Our city in South Dakota has benefited immensely from the leadership that your administration has shown. And we had the Vice President out a couple of weeks ago. At that time we didn't anticipate what's going to be happening up here I don't think. These are historic conditions. They've demanded an historic response, and we've seen that.
I think they've also spoken to the great leadership we have at the local level in our respected states. We've seen some tremendous leadership at the mayoral level, county level; our states have all worked together. And as we work through this we're going to need to continue that. And I would say to our brethren in North Dakota that we want to work with you. We appreciate -- you can't comprehend what you have gone through until you actually see it; today we had that opportunity. And I just want to reiterate the commitment we all share toward putting this back together.
We have seen in our state years ago a similar situation in Rapid City and again this year in Watertown, South Dakota. So we are very grateful for the leadership that you've shown here and we want to work collectively to see that we can put things back together. And we look forward to doing that. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE: Three points in less than a minute. First of all -- Mr. President, I just think that at this moment the President of the United States comes (inaudible.) You have been just fabulous.
The second point, Saturday in Cruxton I met a guy who told me that -- he looked up and he said, I think that what's happened is the Lord's way of telling us that we've got to really take care of our neighbors. And I said, you mean, taking care of people in Grand Forks -- and he said, no, I'm talking about that's what we need to do in the world. And I do think that the worst times have brought out the best (inaudible).
And last point, all of us in the delegation, working with the state emergency services -- have been fantastic. Everybody has done everything they could possibly do, and now that's what all of us have got to do, working with you, Mr. President, working with you, Mr. Witt, working with SBA and working with everybody else. We've got to put together a package that is really going to help people. The worst thing we could ever do would be to have the hope and then not really meet the needs of people. And we really have got to work hard to ensure that happens. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE: I guess I could start out by saying there's good news and bad news about being on the end of the line. The bad news is everything has been said that needs to be said; the good news is everything has been said that needs to be said. I want to take my hat off to Mayor Owens, Mayor Stauss and all the others who have worked so hard. We were here 10 days ago and watched your community fighting to keep the flood waters back, and all the efforts -- 100 percent. And now that this portion of the battle may have been lost, we can devote 100 percent to what needs to be done.
And, Mr. Witt, your presence here, and Mr. President, being here today, just talking with the people -- and I've been in motels and hotels and centers -- and just knowing that you are here and that Governor Carlson and Governor Shaefer were here just gives them this added support and moral ability that they needed.
So just to see your plane come in today -- I know people were along the highway -- brought a lot of hope. And so as we go on the next couple of weeks and months, I know it's going to be 100 percent effort to get us back and up and running on both sides of the river. And I want to thank you very much for that. (Applause.)
REPRESENTATIVE PETERSON: Mr. President, I appreciate you coming out, we all appreciate you being here. And I want to -- I've been out here since Thursday in these communities with these mayors and other people -- and I just want to say that the people who are under water in these communities like East Grand Forks and Warren, Brenton Ridge and -- under water, the FEMA programs are wonderful programs. They've led the best federal, administrative effort I've ever seen -- just doing a tremendous job. But the program we have in place is not going to take care of the problem we have in these communities.
Somehow we've got to get money to the individual homeowners and businesses in these communities that are under water. And I hope that we can do that and not set up some kind of government deal to take care of government. We need to take care of the people. I've heard that time and time again. If we don't get this money to the business people, to the homeowners --(inaudible) -- isn't going to do it. So we're going to have to figure out some way to get that done.
DIRECTOR WITT: Congressman, I think it's very important that, exactly what you said, we know our programs won't make people whole, but we've already taken over 6,000 applications in North Dakota and as many in Minnesota and South Dakota, and already have put out over a million dollars in individual assistance to the individuals. And there's much, much more going out much faster.
But just like in North Dakota, only 11 percent of the 50,000 people had flood insurance. It's going to be a tremendous job to help recover.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just say this. I think one of the things that we need your input in, to go back to this sort of Marshall Plan characterization that Senator Conrad and Senator Dorgan used and that my Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles used yesterday, we need to try to design this aid package so that it gives maximum flexibility to people at the grass-roots level to do what needs to be done in these communities. This is an unprecedented thing, and I will work with you on it.
As I said, my sense is that the rest of the country has been profoundly moved by this. And if your colleagues in the Congress, both parties, will really help us with this, we just need to -- we need your guidance. You've been out here since Thursday, you know a lot more about it than we do. We need to try to structure what we're going to do in the Congress in the next few days in a way that deals with it.
I think that's why Senator Daschle mentioned the community development block grant program, or some other programs that gives the maximum flexibility to the people at the community level.
Governors, would you like to say anything?
GOVERNOR SHAEFER: Mr. President, as Governor, on behalf of all the people of North Dakota, I extend again a welcome and thank you and a friendship and support for your efforts to lead our great United States of America. We do appreciate you being here, hearing you and your Cabinet officials, with our congressional delegations. I know that you're all working hard to put programs together that are going to help rebuild our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities and our states.
I want to assure you as those programs come forth that the resources you send will be distributed wisely, the money that you spend will be spent appropriately. And in the midst of all this pain and emotion, we see thousands of stories of humanity. We see people helping one another. And I want to guarantee you that North Dakotans, working hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, are going to rebuild this community and we're going to have it bigger and better, and North Dakota is going to shine again. Thank you. (Applause.)
GOVERNOR CARLSON: Well, Mr. President, I, too, want join the chorus of people that have expressed gratitude to the federal government and to you personally for your leadership that I know under stress you came out here, and it means a great deal to all of us.
There's been a lot of talk today about 1993. I think we learned a lot from '93. It was an incredible experience, frankly, to see all the states come together, work very closely with the administration, closely with Congress. And when all the lights are out and all the drama is over, there's the long process of rebuilding. When you look back on '93, I think everybody would say the same thing -- extraordinarily well-done, superb partnership.
There's an experience that we're going through today that we really have little history, and that's the virtual destruction of a city. How do you handle that? One congressman has referred to caps and the fact that the caps will ultimately turn out to be inadequate. We've used phrases like the Marshall Plan, the tremendous and dramatic impact that this had on restoring Europe, literally building community after community after community.
I want you to know that we will form a partnership with you, with the states, with the local government, and together I think we can come up with a program that does allow us to rebuild cities that have absolutely been destroyed by this flood. And I do want very, very much to applaud all the efforts of the local officials. I mean that most sincerely. This has gone on in these states now for several weeks. I know the focus today is on Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, but we're talking all the way from -- and the weeks of labor, the weeks of stress that these people have gone through. Emergency services on the FEMA side, on the state side have been absolutely extraordinary. The leadership of the mayors, the police chiefs, the fire departments have been extraordinary.
Our job now in a sense begins, as elected officials, to figure out if we can't come up with a formula that actually does rebuild the cities that have really been destroyed. The '93 figures will be applicable I believe to all the rest of the community. I think we have some unique situations here and we're going to have to design a unique plan.
And toward that end, I do want you to know that we will be your very, very willing partner. And again, I thank you ever so much. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: After years and years of dealing with this things of this kind, my instinct is that what Governor Carlson said is right, that what Minnesota learned and what we learned in all the midwestern states that were engulfed in the flood of '93 will give us some very valuable lessons about what to do in the rebuilding in all the communities affected here, with the exception of these two where you've had the total destruction of communities of this size. In my experience, we've not gone through anything like this. So I do think we're going to have to be creative and flexible.
I just want to make two brief points, but I want to -- before I do, we have some other mayors here and I know we can't hear from everybody, but Mayor Stauss, would you like to say anything?
MAYOR STAUSS: I'd just like to say that our community, of course, of East Grand Forks -- we have a population of 9,000. I feel like a mayor that has lost his total community because we had to evacuate everybody, and they're basically left with their shirts on their backs. And as we talk about the Marshall Plan, we rebuilt Europe, so I guess I'd like to see us rebuild a city in the USA and bring our refugees back home, help us rebuild -- help them quickly because they need this help now.
And I really think it's nice to see the support we have from the senators, the congressmen, the President, but now we need immediate help. Let's get the job done and we'll rebuild our community. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Before we break this up, I just want to make two points. The first thing I wanted to ask is a question. Is there an estimated time for when the water and sewer will be hooked up again? Do we even know? Do we have any way of -- anyone know?
MR. VEIN: Yes, Mr. President, it appears that at this time the waters are supposed to stay up for about a week and it would be another week before they would recede. We will try to get some temporary water in the next week to get some areas going. We use normally about 8 million gallons a day, and it's going to take months or many, many weeks before we'll get up to that capacity. Our intakes are down that serve our water plant, and our water plant is down. So I would project it will take nearly a month before we will have those services restored in their basic form and longer than that to have them up and running properly.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, one of you -- I think maybe it was Curt said you were worried it might take three or four weeks before people could be back on their home sites.
Let me say -- Mr. Witt said something about the trailers, on-site trailers, which we have found work best. As soon as we know how many people want to go back there and live under those circumstances and how many people, the quicker we can do that inventory, the better because even if we have to have these made, which typically we do in numbers this large, you can get incredibly rapid turnaround. You can turn one around -- you can order, make and deliver up here probably within less than two weeks. Maybe -- at least they can make a large number on order at any of these sophisticated manufacturing places in 10 days.
So I think we can do our part of that, but it depends on what kind of other arrangements you can make for water and sewer. And when you tell us. Isn't that about right?
DIRECTOR WITT: Absolutely. The quicker we can get help to the states and the cities to get the water and sewer back up.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but we've also got to have the inventory ready simultaneously. We could be -- we can order these things before the water and sewer is back on so that they happen together. That's the point I'm trying to make. You can -- and that can save people at least a couple of weeks. And I know right now any day, people say, mean something to them.
The second point I want to make is to my -- basically a request to the members of Congress who are here and for help from the governors. Believe me, everybody in Congress -- I think virtually everybody will be sympathetic to this request. On the other hand, the thing that bothers me that could delay this some, and I don't want to see it happen, is sometimes in Congress, when something that is so important, so popular like this comes along, other people, for perfectly legitimate reasons, think, well I've got something I care about; maybe I can tack that on there, too. And there may be some others agendas that get caught up in this.
So I would just ask, on a completely bipartisan, or, if we will, non-partisan basis -- this is an American issue -- if we can get this supplemental request through the Congress on its own terms, or at most, only with other emergency-related expenditures in other parts of the country, so that none of us -- and the administration included -- we all resist whatever temptation we might have to get something else done. I think that is the moral and the right thing to do. These people deserve help now, and that's the only way to make sure we won't have any extraneous debates and won't full around and waste a lot of time.
And I will do whatever I can. But we need -- and again, believe me, I don't know anybody who is going to do this, I've just seen it happen over and over and over again where it seems like it's just an irresistible temptation when you think some interest you represent can ride along on the train that deserves to go out of the station in a hurry. We all need to resist that and do what's right by these folks and get it done now. And if we can do that, I think that, from what I've seen here today, they'll take care of the rest.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 3:10 P.M. CDT