[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1994, Book I)]
[January 17, 1994]
[Pages 99-101]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters on the Los Angeles Earthquake 
January 17, 1994

    The President. Good afternoon. As all of you know, this morning at 
dawn a violent earthquake struck southern California near Los Angeles. 
Because it occurred in a densely populated area, it was an unusually 
destructive one. We have all seen today on our own televisions the 
buildings that have collapsed, the freeways turned into rubble. The 
power has been cut off and gas mains have exploded and, most tragically, 
many people have been injured and several lives have already been lost.
    Due to the damage caused by the earthquake, I have, by signing the 
document that I will sign at the end of this statement, declared these 
areas of California to be a major disaster, thereby authorizing the 
expenditures of funds necessary for Federal disaster assistance that is 
requested by Governor Wilson.
    This program will include, among other things, low-interest loans to 
replace homes and businesses, cash grants where needed, housing 
assistance, emergency unemployment assistance, and funds to rebuild the 
highways, the schools, and other infrastructure.
    At my direction, the Director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, is now on his 
way to California, along with Secretary of Transportation Pena and 
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Cisneros. In addition, I have 
directed some senior White House staff to the scene as well. Our

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hearts and prayers go out to the people of southern California. I spoke 
early this morning with Mayor Riordan and then with Governor Wilson and 
wished them well and pledged to them that the United States Government 
would do all that we possibly can to be helpful. They were obviously 
appreciative and were glad that James Lee Witt, as well as our Cabinet 
Secretaries, were on their way to the scene.
    The people of southern California have been through a lot recently 
with the fires. The economy of the State of California has suffered 
enormous stresses in the last few years, and I think all of us should be 
very sensitive to what they are going through now. I know the rest of 
America will offer them their thoughts and their prayers tonight and 
will support our common efforts to help them to recover from this 
tragedy and to get on with the business of rebuilding their lives.
    The assistance here will be short-term to help people get through 
the next few days, but there will also be long-term work to be done, and 
we expect to be involved as full partners in that.
    Again, let me say I wish the Mayor, the Governor, the people of 
California well. We are looking forward to working with them. I have had 
the opportunity to speak with both Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein 
today, and I am confident that everybody is doing everything they can. I 
am going to be here basically waiting for reports today and tomorrow as 
we assess what our next steps should be. Let me sign the document for 
disaster declaration, and then I will answer a few questions.

[At this point, the President signed the declaration.]

    Q. Mr. President, when you say that this will be short-term 
assistance, any idea how much money this is going to cost the Federal 
Government in the short term as well as in the long term? Will you be 
going back to Congress seeking emergency assistance?
    The President. I don't know. We have got to wait until we get some 
sense of how much money is involved. The most expensive thing I know 
about now would obviously be the three freeways. And any of you who have 
ever--and I guess all of you, certainly with me and probably on your 
own, have been on those freeways in times of difficult traffic know how 
pivotal that's going to be to restoring the economic capacity of the 
people of southern California. They depend heavily on those freeways; 
and then with that many, with three of them severely damaged, I would 
imagine that would be the most urgent and most expensive need that we 
know about now. Now, of course, there may be other things and I have to 
get a report. Again, I expect to be getting reports on this all through 
    Q. Mr. President, are you considering going out there yourself to 
look at the damage?
    The President. Yes. As you know, I went to the flooded areas in the 
Middle West and I went--I basically like to take a firsthand view of 
these things, but I don't want to be in the way. When I go, I want to be 
a constructive presence. And we've got Mr. Witt out there. We've got 
Secretary Cisneros and Secretary Pena out there. We've got people from 
my staff out there. I think it's important that I not go out there and 
get in the way. So, I don't know when it would be appropriate for me to 
go. I'm going to wait until I get some feedback from the folks on the 
ground there. They've got enough of a traffic jam with those three 
interstates messed up as it is.
    Q. Mr. President, what went through your mind this morning when you 
first were told about this earthquake? We understand you called your 
brother right away.
    The President. Well, the first thing, I guess I was a citizen first. 
The first thing I did was pick up the phone and call my brother, because 
I knew that he lived very close to the epicenter of the earthquake. And 
I called him probably at 5:15 a.m. their time, so it was maybe 35 
minutes or 40 minutes after the earthquake had occurred. He was fine. He 
said they'd suffered some significant disruption in movement there in 
his apartment, but they didn't have any significant loss. So I felt good 
about that.
    And then I tried to get another report, and then I started calling 
folks in California in a more official capacity. But, of course, like 
all of you, I was able to watch it all unfold on television. It was 
really something.
    Q. Mr. President, do you anticipate a need to activate Federal 
    The President. If we need to do it, we can. We are organized to do 
it. But again, I want to wait until I get a report back from Mr. Witt 
after he talks to the Mayor and the Governor and others involved out 
there. We've had a pretty good record of--you know, we've had experi-

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ence working with the folks in that area. Ironically, you know, we've 
got some sites that were made available for emergency aid during the 
fires that could still be activated rather quickly. I mean, our folks 
are in place there and the contingencies that they need to think 
through, I think, have pretty well been thought through. So, we should 
be able to give you a much better report tomorrow sometime.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:07 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White