Conditions in Grand Forks, N.D. (1.1MB QuickTime movie)
President Clinton addresses the residents (384K wav sound)
Relief money in Congress (320K wav sound)
Clinton Tours Flood-Ravaged North Dakota
President offers federal money, words of encouragement
GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AllPolitics, April 22) -- President Bill Clinton, in his role as consoler-in-chief, toured the flood-ravaged upper Midwest today and declared the federal government will help people there rebuild their homes and lives.
After a helicopter tour over the swollen Red River and a community meeting, Clinton told evacuees at a nearby Air Force base to keep their spirits up. (384K wav sound)
"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," Clinton said to applause.
The president, who has visited disaster scenes in California, the Pacific Northwest, his home state of Arkansas and elsewhere, delivered a talk that was part nuts-and-bolts discussion of federal aid on its way and part emotional encouragement.
Clinton said he has authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to pay 100 percent of the cost of emergency work, instead of the normal 75 percent.
He also said he has designated another 18 counties in Minnesota and 53 in South Dakota as disaster areas and asked Congress to approve another $200 million in aid for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. That brings the proposed total to $488 million. (320K wav sound)
During the visit, Clinton said he was sure Congress will approve the relief aid. "The Congress has shown in the past, even when it was quite costly ... that we can unite across party lines to do what has to be done."
Clinton, who said he had never seen a community so inundated as Grand Forks, also warned the flood's emotional impact may hit later.
"The next few days are going to be very, very hard on a lot of people," Clinton said. "A lot of you who have been very, very brave and courageous and helped your friends and neighbors, it's going to sink in on you what you have been through, what has been lost," Clinton said.
"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 ... Understand, you don't have to be ashamed if you're heartbroken."
Clinton said he was moved by bulletin board offers of free housing and the local newspaper's persistence in continuing to publish through the disaster.
"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," the president said.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said damage in the region could top $1 billion, and FEMA Director James Lee Witt said the damage will require a massive recovery effort. About 100,000 head of cattle have been lost, too.
'You're talking water-treatment plants, sewage-treatment plants, bridges and roads," Witt said. "The infrastruture is totally gone."
Before he left the White House this morning, Clinton called for intensifying the research into links between global climate change and destructive weather.
Clinton said it will take more research to find if there is a link between a spate of disastrous weather and global warming.
"We do not know ... for sure that the warming of the earth is responsible for what seems to be a substantial increase in highly disruptive weather events, but many people believe that it is," Clinton said. "And we have to keep looking into it. We have to find the best scientific evidence we have. And we have to keep searching for the answers to this."
Clinton and Vice President Al Gore used the occasion to mark the 27th observance of Earth Day, also announcing an expansion of the right-to-know law that allows people to learn about toxic substances that industries release in their communities.
"We're giving them the most powerful tool in a democracy -- knowledge," Clinton said.
Federal authorities are expanding the 10-year-old law to cover seven new industries, including mining, electrical utilities and hazardous waste treatment.
Clinton said making the information available is "one of the best things we can do in Washington to protect the environment."
"In the decade that it [the law] has been on the books, citizens have joined with government and industry to reduce the release of toxic chemicals by 43 percent," the president said.
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