Remarks by President Biden During Briefing with Local Leaders on Tornado Response
10:58 A.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll be very brief because I want to hear from all of you. But, you know, unfortunately, I’ve had many — too many of these meetings, and especially this year.
But my state — the southern part of my state in the Delmarva Peninsula is not a whole lot different, as you know, Gov, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland from here.
Our biggest industry is agriculture. We have a $4 billion industry of chickens and poultry and a whole range of other things. But also, partly on the Chesapeake Bay, as well as on the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean, we got a lot of storms, but nothing like we’ve seen the tornado that came through here.
But the main thing I want to say is: I’m amazed. I’ve been asking my FEMA folks and — and my Homeland Security what — what is the most impressive thing you’ve seen — I meant in terms — I started off thinking in damage. And they said: The way you all come together, the way people just come out of nowhere to help as a community. And that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s what America is supposed to be.
There is no red tornadoes and blue tornadoes; there’s no red states or blue states when this stuff starts to happen. And I think, at least in my experience, it either brings people together or really knocks them apart — and moving you together here.
It’s — but look, one thing I’ll say, and then I’ll — I want to hear from all of you, is that — and I know the Governor and the former governor have been through this before — but immediately after disasters is a time when people are really, really moving and trying to help each other and trying to get things done.
But after a month, after six weeks, after two months, people can get themselves to the point where they get fairly depressed about what’s going on, particularly our young kids and particularly people who have lost somebody.
And so, I just want you to know the help that we’re able to offer at the federal level is not just now.
Chief, you know, there’s other forms of being able to help this police department beyond FEMA, beyond the — what we have now.
Fire service, same way. Fire service — you know, there’s that old expression, “God made man, and then he made a few firefighters.” But I really mean it. There’s a lot of — who are going to need help. And a lot of the business people are going to be wondering what’s going on.
But the interesting thing is, as you fly over here, as I’ve done in the past — although I’ve not seen this tornado dam- — this much damage from a tornado — you know, you think, “But for the grace of God, why was I not 100 yards outside that line” —
GOVERNOR BESHEAR: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: — which makes it so different.
So I think there’s — anyway, I just want — I just want you to know — and I’m driving the Governor crazy calling him all the time — (laughter) — but there may be things available that will be helpful six weeks and six months from now that you’re unaware of.
And so, we’re — I’ve instructed my team to make you all aware of everything that is available from a federal level. And some of it has to do outside of FEMA, outside of Homeland Security. There’s other programs, including education, a whole range of things.
So — but I’m here to listen. And I tell you, this is one of those things where I think the vast majority Americans know what you’ve been through just looking on the television. It has been incredible. Your colleagues talk about it. They’ve seen it. They said, “Holy gosh, what’s going on?”
And so, we’re going to be here, we’re going to — for a little while. I want to walk through town, if that’s okay, a little bit. And then we’re going to go off to Dawson. And — anyway.
But thank you. And don’t hesitate to ask for anything. If we can’t do it, we’ll tell you we can’t. And we’ll tell you from experience how you can maybe get it done if you can’t get it done through the federal way.
And, Mayor, anytime you want to call a city council meeting, I’m ready. (Laughter.)
MAYOR O’NAN: I’ll take you up on that, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I used to be a city councilman. I think I told you this, Gov. And I ran for the Senate because it was too difficult being a city councilman — (laughter) — because they know where you live. You know what I mean? (Laughter.) And it affects them more than anything else. It’s hell of a lot easier being a senator.
Anyway, thank you all for being here and thanks for giving me the time.
GOVERNOR BESHEAR: Thank you, Mr. President. I’ve been asked to start by giving a state update, and then we’ll have some updates around the table.
First, we called a state — declared a state of emergency right when the storm first hit, which was going to give us the ability to marshal resources as quickly as possible.
As we sit here today, we have over 600 National Guard, or nearing that, deployed over the 18 counties that have been — that have been hit. And they’re doing everything from continuing search to verifying information of those that we believe have been found, to helping on police and debris removal.
We have hundreds of Transportation Cabinet workers — and the biggest trucks we can find — and the Division of Forestry that are out there working really, really hard.
First, it was to clear the roads, but now, in something that feels pretty therapeutic, we’re actually hauling some of this debris out of town — hauling a little bit of that chaos and devastation and death out of town.
State police — an enormous presence brought in from the region and the rest of the state, everything from wellness checks to anything else that is needed.
We opened our state parks, and we now have hundreds of our families — Pennyrile filled up on the first night. Kentucky Dam Village. Kenlake. We got the power back at Barkley. It was out because of a fire that was before all this, but now housing as many people who need it.
And, folks, we still have over 100 rooms between them that we can help. We know we got a church that was being a shelter all moved to one location where we can take care of them.
We’re getting both cell service restored and we have a number of providers that have really pulled out all the stops to try to do that. And we continue to work on power. And that’s both the TVA getting power, but then it’s the connections from there that I know are a challenge.
I think I’ve talked on the phone with just about everybody at this table multiple times.
My report is: We’re here for anything you need at all, at any time. And if we’ve never done it before, we will figure out how to get it done. We love you all, and we’re with you.
So, with that, I’ll turn it over to Secretary Mayorkas.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you. Over here. (Laughter.)
Thank you very much, Governor, Mr. President.
I want to make a — express a special thanks to the first responders whom we saw and met on Sunday when FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and I were here for the first time. It’s just remarkable to see individuals who are disaster survivors themselves come to the rescue of others. And I think it speaks volumes to what the President said at the outset about the people — the people here that, in the time of need, there are no strangers. Everyone comes together, everyone is a neighbor of one another, and it’s like a big family.
We — we received the direction from the President not to wait to be asked for help but to come and deliver what is needed and to ask this community and all of the affected communities, “What do you need?” And the direction was to — for us to redefine what is possible to deliver on behalf of the government and all of government.
We’ve been privileged to be with you. And I want to communicate the assurance that we will be here throughout this period of response. And as we move into, later, a period of recovery, we will be here throughout.
We are right now delivering lifesaving and life-sustaining support; search and rescue operations; the delivery of food, water, blankets, and emergency shelter; providing generators to get nursing homes and medical facilities up and running again.
I do want to identify a number of resources that we have. We want disaster survivors to know that they can go to — if they have the connectivity — DisasterAssistance.gov. DisasterAssistance.gov.
We also have an “800” number available: 1-800-621-FEMA. 1-800-621-FEMA.
We are aware of the fact that some do not have connectivity, some do not have phone service. We have therefore two disaster recovery centers here — one here in in Mayfield and one in Dawson Springs.
The President directed us to be aware of the challenge of connectivity and to go where the need exists, and to be able to provide a one-stop shop for people.
We also have individuals going from family to family, individual to individuals. We are here, and we will remain here to see this beautiful community in this area through this disaster.
Thank you, Mr. Governor.
GOVERNOR BESHEAR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And I know, as of noon yesterday, we had over 1,800 families that had already gone online. And thank you.
Next, we’ve got our FEMA Administrator, Deanne Criswell, who was in touch moments — moments after we knew how bad it was. And we appreciate your continued diligence. You’re going to be down here enough that you’re going to be one of us.
ADMINSTRATOR CRISWELL: I would welcome that, Governor. Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. Secretary.
And I’d just like to start out by thanking Governor Beshear, Mayor O’Nan, and Congressman Comer for welcoming us back to your community.
It’s been just five days since we saw the devastating impacts of these tornadoes. And what I’ve seen already is that the recovery has already begun; as you’ve already heard, how the communities have come together to help each other out and begin this recovery process.
But know this: You have our commitment — the commitment of the federal government — to be here with you as you continue to go through this road to recovery.
And since our work began here, we have witnessed exemplary leadership from across the community — the local leaders, the fire leaders, the community leaders — and what you have done to bring the communities together and give them the resources that they need.
The emergency managers and first responders, we’ve asked so much of them in the last few years in response to COVID-19, yet they still show up and are providing just amazing service to their communities, sacrificing time with their families who may be impacted, to make sure that their communities continue to stay safe.
When we began receiving reports of the devastation that these tornadoes were going to bring, we quickly sent teams forward to make sure that we would be able to provide the support that you needed, Governor, in order to save as many lives as we could.
GOVERNOR BESHEAR: Thank you.
ADMINSTRATOR CRISWELL: We deployed emergency response teams from across the nation — these multijurisdictional, multidisciplinary teams — to come in and assist the amazing efforts that the local and the state responders were already doing in their rescue operations.
These teams worked side-by-side, day and night, to make sure that they could find survivors. And their actions were heroic, they were selfless, and required such a significant amount of trust of people that may have not met each other before in order to make sure that they were helping these communities.
And as you heard the Secretary say, in the days following a disaster, we know that communications are a struggle and that it’s hard for individuals to get the resources that they need.
That’s why, in addition to the disaster recovery centers that the Secretary mentioned, we also have the Disaster Survivor Assistance teams. They are out in the communities right now. They have iPads with them. They’re wearing FEMA shirts. And they’ll be able to help you either register for assistance or direct you to other resources that you might need.
So, if you see somebody in a FEMA shirt walking around your community, please stop them and ask them for assistance if you need additional help.
With the President’s signing of the major disaster declaration on December 12th, we also have individual assistance that’s been authorized for the communities that have been designated. This will help individuals secure temporary lodging, start to rebuild their homes, and begin assisting with their recovery efforts.
But I’d like to point out that FEMA is just one part of this team. We’re a small part of this team, and we bring the entire federal family together to come help with this recovery process. And it’s really supporting the amazing efforts that are already underway at the state level and the local level.
And it’s this whole-of-community approach that is really going to be able to provide this road to recovery for those that have been impacted. And that work has already begun.
We’re seeing, as you heard, neighbors helping neighbors, businesses helping businesses. I’ve seen community partners cooking on the streets, helping to feed those that have been impacted by this. Debris is already being hauled off the sites that have been damaged. The power is coming back online. This is recovery beginning, and we will be with you throughout this recovery progress.
And so, just know that we are with you and our hearts are with you.
Thank you, Governor.
GOVERNOR BESHEAR: Thank you.
11:13 A.M. CST