Miller Center

Address to the People and Relief Workers of Grand Forks, ND (April 22, 1997)

Bill Clinton

Thank you. Wait a minute, folks, I've got to get these crutches right here. [Laughter] Thank you, General Hess. Let me begin by thanking everyone who is a part of the Grand Forks Air Force Base for what you do for our national security and especially for what you have done to support the people of the Grand Forks communities in these last few days. I'm very proud of you. Thank you.

As I think all of you know, I have just come from touring the devastation of the floods as well as a very moving community meeting, presided over by Mayor Owens, attended by Mayor Stauss and other mayors, the entire congressional delegation from North Dakota and from South Dakota, Senator Grams and Senator Wellstone from Minnesota, Congressman Collin Peterson from Minnesota, and the Governors from North Dakota and Minnesota.

It has been a very moving experience for all of us. Five members of my Cabinet are here, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. The Secretary of the Army is here. We have all come, first of all, to see firsthand what it is you've been going through; secondly, to pledge to do our part to help make you whole; and thirdly, to tell you that we're for you. We have hardly ever seen such a remarkable demonstration of courage and commitment and cooperation and basic human strength, and we are very impressed and proud to be Americans when we see what you have done in the face of this terrible disaster.

We know that this rebuilding is going to be a long-term prospect, and we also know that there are some very immediate and pressing human needs that many people have. Before I left this morning, I took some steps I wanted to tell you about. First, I authorized James Lee Witt and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide 100 percent of the direct Federal assistance for all the emergency—[inaudible]—work going to be undertaken here.

The second thing we did was to add to the counties already covered another 18 counties in Minnesota and 53 in South Dakota who need help.

The third thing I did was to ask Congress to approve another $200 million in emergency funds for North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. These funds will be available for both short-term emergency response activities and for long-term efforts to help you rebuild. If approved, this action will bring to $488 million the total amount of disaster assistance that I have requested for the people of these three States.

Now, let me say there are—I say again, I know there are short-term, immediate concerns, people who need a place to sleep, people who don't know where their next check is coming from, even people who don't have access to basic sanitary facilities except here on the air base. We are working to restore those things with your local community folks. And we had some specific talks about what we could do to get proper housing available while you're rebuilding your communities. [At this point, there was a disturbance in the building.] That's up there. Anybody hurt?

Well, we've had a fire, a flood, a blizzard—[laughter]—I guess we can take a—[applause].

So anyway, we'll have our folks here, and there will be lots of them. And let me just say, this is going to be—these next few days—our FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, and I have been working on these things a long time. He was my emergency director when I was Governor of Arkansas. I know what's going to happen. I've been through floods and tornadoes and terrible losses. The next few days are going to be very, very hard on a lot of people. A lot of you who have been very, very brave and courageous, helped your friends and neighbors, are going to—it's going to sink in on you what you have been through and what has been lost. And I want to encourage all of you to really look out for each other in the next few days and be sensitive to the enormous emotional pressures that some of you will feel and also kind of be good to yourselves. Understand you don't have to be ashamed if you're heartbroken. But it's going to be tough in the next few days.

But I also want you to feel very resolute about the long run. I have asked Director Witt to head an interagency task force to develop a long-term plan for what our responsibilities are to help you rebuild and be stronger and better than ever. And believe me, it may be hard to believe now, but you can rebuild stronger and better than ever. And we're going to help you do that. And we want you to keep your eyes on that future.

Let me also say, as I go back to Washington to ask the Congress to approve this emergency package, I will never forget what I have seen and heard here. Four of your community leaders who played various roles in the last several weeks, Ken Vein, Jim Shothorse, Randy Johnson, and Curt Kruen, talked to me and to others in the meeting a few moments ago. I have seen the pictures of people battling the flames of the fire in the rising floods. I have seen rescue workers working around the clock even as they lost their own homes. I have seen people pitching in to rescue books from the University of North Dakota library. I have read the last 3 days editions of this newspaper. How in the world they kept producing the newspaper for you is beyond me. And you ought to be very proud of them for doing that. I read this morning that there's a message board right here that's covered with offers for free housing all around. And that's the kind of spirit that will get everyone through this.

With all the losses, I hope when this is bearing down on you in the next few days, you will remember the enormous courage and shared pride and values and support that all of you have given each other. You have shown that when we think of our duties to one another, our own lives are better, that we're all stronger when we try to make sure our friends and neighbors are safe and strong as well. And no matter what you have lost in this terrible flood, what you have saved and strengthened and sharpened and shown to the world is infinitely better. And you should be very, very proud of that.

I saw something your mayor said the other day that struck me in particular. She said, "What makes a community a place to live in is not the buildings. It's the people, the spirit, and faith that are in those people. Water cannot wash that away, and fire cannot burn that away, and a blizzard cannot freeze that away." And if you don't give it away, it will bring you back better than ever. And we'll be there with you every step of the way.

Thank you, and God bless you.