[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 15, 1998]
[Pages 566-568]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks in McDonald Chapel, Alabama
April 15, 1998

    Thank you very much. Thank you. Let me first of all thank 
Governor and Mrs. James, Senator Shelby, 
Congressman and Mrs. Bachus, Congressman Hilliard, and 
we were joined earlier today by Congressman Riley 
and Congressman Aderholt, my long-time 
friend Mayor Arrington and my friend 
Senator Heflin. I thank all of you for joining 
us, Senator Escott, Representative 
Hilliard, Sheriff Woodward, and all the law enforcement officials.
    I want to thank James Lee Witt and our 
SBA director, Aida Alvarez, for their presence 
here today and all the FEMA workers, beginning with Mr. Witt, for the 
wonderful job they've done here in Alabama. I'd like to thank the people 
who've shared their stories with me, Pastor Homer and Shelva Jordan, as we 
stood in their Chapel Hill Baptist Church down there. I thank Bill and Gayle Reed, and 
Morris and Bonnie Rembert, and Phil and Cindy 
Rutland who are our hosts--we're on their 
property today. They are throwing an open house for us. [Laughter]
    All of you know that we're looking at what remains of one of the 
deadliest tornadoes in Alabama's history, one of the most powerful 
tornadoes ever recorded in the United States. I've just come from a 
recovery center in Pratt City where I spoke with some other grieving 
families. I met a young man who was on his 
way to his wife's funeral. They were married 
just a year and a month.
    When the Vice President came back from 
his tour here, he told me about the destruction, but this really is a 
place that has to be seen to be believed and understood. I want all of 
you to know, here in Alabama, that the entire country has been moved by 
this disaster, by its scope, by its sweep, and by the way that you have 
recovered and tried to fight through it.
    Our country has prayed for and hoped for you and for your neighbors 
in Georgia. As always, I have been especially moved by the way people in 
the community have pulled together, have reached out to their neighbors 
whom they knew and their neighbors whom they did not know before this 
terrible tragedy struck, and I thank you for that.
    I never cease to be amazed when I see people who have lost 
everything, who can still express their gratitude that they and their 
children and their neighbors are still alive and they have the ability 
to start again. Your community has pulled together. Your State has been 
here, and there is a responsibility that your fellow citizens throughout 
the country feel.
    The reason we have a Federal Emergency Management Agency, the reason 
the Small Business Administration has disaster assistance, the reason we 
do all these things is because all of us recognize that from time to 
time in America things will happen that no community, not even one 
State, can handle on its own.
    I am pleased that Federal assistance checks are already in the hands 
of Alabama residents who are repairing or rebuilding their homes or 
those who need temporary housing or medical care. I spoke to some folks 
today who hadn't received them yet, and I assured them that they would 
be there soon, and that if they aren't they ought to call us and let us 
    I know, too, that today the first disaster loans to businesses went 
out from the Small Business

[[Page 567]]

Administration, about $600,000 worth of them. Also today I can say that 
we are making available all categories of public assistance funding for 
local governments and non-profit organizations to rebuild, restore, and 
reconstruct public facilities, including schools and infrastructure, and 
I think that's very important.
    And I think its also important that we recognize that for all the 
courage and heroism and just plain old-fashioned resilience of the 
people, there are emotional and physical stresses associated with a 
disaster like this that go beyond the cost of the buildings blowing down 
and the homes blown away and the family letters and pictures that will 
never be seen again, even beyond the hospital costs of legs that have to 
be set and cuts that have to be sewn up. So we're authorizing a crisis 
counseling assistance and training program here to provide up to 9 
months of community services and outreach to help people who need to be 
supported as they start trying to look to tomorrow again.
    Finally, I talked to a number of people today who obviously can't go 
to work right now because of what's happened, who are concerned about 
their situation. Secretary Herman and the 
Department of Labor are going to provide over 3 million jobs for--
temporary jobs to assist in the clean up and recovery. And I hope some 
of the people in this neighborhood who may be unemployed as a 
consequence of the tornado will be able to get some temporary work 
helping to put their neighbors' lives and their communities back 
together again.
    Finally, let me say that our FEMA Director, James Lee Witt, contacted the National Council of Churches about 
the loss and destruction to churches here, and they have pledged to help 
on a national basis to assist in the effort to rebuild and repair all 
the churches that were damaged and destroyed here in Alabama as a result 
of this tornado.
    Let me just close with a special commendation for all the State and 
local emergency management officials, the search and rescue teams, the 
volunteers who have labored so long; the Governor told me about some of 
the horrible human loss just within yards of where we're standing. I 
thank the people in our military uniforms. Many of them have been here 
for hours and hours and hours without relief. I know that many of these 
relief workers have been working more than 18 hours a day to clear 
debris, to cut trees, to lift telephone poles. I would like to 
compliment your power company for getting the power back on within 48 
hours and allowing some measure of normalcy to return.
    I would like to thank the Salvation Army for providing the free 
meals and all the people that contributed food from all over America. I 
would like to thank the people who have provided quilts or medicine or 
other physical support. I would also like to say--Bill and Gayle Reed said something to 
me I think I ought to say to all of you--they said, you know, a lot of 
times in the last few days the most important thing they got from their 
friends and neighbors was just a kind remark or a pat on the back or an 
expression of support. And for all of you who have done that, I thank 
    My experience has been, from being Governor of a State with a lot of 
tornadoes for 12 years and then being President during some of the most 
profound natural disasters of the 20th century, is that the most 
important thing for people in trouble is that they know their friends 
and neighbors and family members are supporting them and that they have 
some concrete thing to look forward to tomorrow. We have to give people 
a way to look forward to tomorrow--a project, work to do, something that 
can be done to make a difference.
    I'm always struck by the strength and bravery, the generosity of the 
American people at a time like this. The families I have seen today have 
reaffirmed that and I thank them. Back behind us over here in McDonald 
Chapel, the Open Door Church may lie in a rubble, but I understand that 
on Easter morning the congregation gathered on folding chairs and held a 
service in the parking lot. The Book of Isaiah has a verse that has 
particular meaning to me. I'll just leave it with you: ``You were 
wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say it was 
hopeless; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not 
    My friends, the road to recovery is long. Your grief and your pain 
are profound. It will take weeks, months, even years to rebuild all that 
has been destroyed. But the process of restoration has begun because the 
most important thing you have, your spirit, was not destroyed. And we 
look forward to working with you all the way.
    Thank you very much.

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Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the McDonald Chapel 
neighborhood of suburban Birmingham, AL, which was struck by a tornado 
on April 8. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Fob James, Jr., and his 
wife, Bobbie; former Senator Howell Heflin; State Senator Sundra Escott-
Russell; State Representative John R. Hilliard; Mayor Richard Arrington, 
Jr., of Birmingham; Sheriff Jim Woodward of Jefferson County; Pastor 
Homer Jordan of Chapel Hill Baptist Church and his wife, Shelva; and 
tornado survivors Bill and Gayle Reed, Morris and Bonnie Rembert, 
Phillip and Cindy Rutland, whose mobile home was destroyed, and Marcus 
Coleman, widower of Colet Coleman.