Remarks by President Biden in Dawson Springs on the Response to the Tornadoes
Dawson Springs, Kentucky
3:06 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: Gov, thank you.
I want to introduce you to a new friend of mine. This is Dane. Dane lived down the street. And Dane and all his — he has cousins who are all together. And one cousin, I don’t know where she is. There she is. Come on up here, honey. Can you see — come here.
She is about to graduate from UK on Friday — on Friday. And — and I just want you to meet them.
I — I’m sorry to keep you all waiting, but I got a chance to hang out with the whole extended family down there. And I want you to meet a soon-to-be-graduate who wants to go on to graduate school. Come on up here, honey. (Applause.)
What’s your first name?
MS. PARKER: Abby. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Abby is here, and we’re going to figure something special for her graduation day. But imag- — imagine that: This Friday, she graduates from UK.
I kid and say, “The best thing that ever came out of Kentucky was my sister-in-law. And she is — she’s all blue. She went to UK, then she went on to Duke Law School. And she married my brother. We’re all thankful to everybody for her marrying my brother.
And at any rate — so, you got to remember me when you’re President. Right?
MS. PARKER: Yeah.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Thank you. I just wanted you to meet the folks I was just hanging with.
Thank you, honey.
MS. PARKER: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Andy — thank you, Gov, for the introduction. I — your forbearance is — is commendable. I — this has to be an emotional moment for you and the family, for the congressmen — for all of you congressmen. Thanks for the passport into your district. Appreciate it.
And the — I want to also thank everyone here that took the time to be here. And, you know, one of the things — back in the 1900s, Dawson Springs was a place where people came to be healed because of the mineral waters. Literally, it was a place you came to heal. Now it’s our turn to help the entire town to heal.
You know, I — I granted the request for the first emergency declaration and the major disaster declaration the moment I received it, because I got to know the Governor’s father, and I knew nothing would come if it wasn’t real. I mean it. For real.
And, you know, yesterday I also approved an emergency declaration for the state of Illinois and Tennessee. And I intend to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes — as long as it takes — to support your state, your local leaders, and — as you recover and rebuild, because you will recover and you will rebuild.
You know, the scope and scale of this destruction is almost beyond belief. When you look around here, it’s just almost beyond belief. These tornadoes devoured everything in their path. And, you know, as I flew over here in the helicopter, you can look down and you see a house 20 yards away from a house that’s devastated, and the house is in good shape.
I mean, it’s just — tornadoes are such devastating storms.
Back where I’m from, we’re used to hurricanes and floods and high water, but these tornadoes are just something totally different. And they’re not — you devoured — it devoured everything in the path: your homes, your businesses, your houses of worship, your dreams, their lives.
And, you know, the Governor confirmed there were, I think you said, 74 fatalities so far, Gov, in Kentucky and — and making these among the deadliest tornadoes to ever strike this state.
Almost 14 people are confirmed dead in other states, with dozens of people still — still fearful of where they — where they are.
I met one of them. I don’t have permission to use their name, but I met one couple on the way up, said they’re still looking for four of their friends. They don’t know where they are.
And those who have lost someone — there’s no words for the pain of losing someone. A lot of us know it. A lot of us understand it, especially around the holidays, when everything is supposed to be happy and joyful.
It was a long time ago I got a phone call around the holidays and found out that my — I was in Washington as a young senator — not sworn in yet — about to be hiring staff. And I got a call saying, from a first responder, that there had been an accident. A tractor trailer broadsided my wife with a Christmas tree on top and my three kids inside. My wife and daughter were dead.
But my mother, God love her, used to always say, “Out of everything terrible, something good will happen.” Something good has to happen out of this. It just can’t be all bad. We’ve got to make it better.
And so, folks, those who have lost someone know — know how tough it is. And you know how tough it is.
You know, in Mayfield, just hours before the storm — and we just came from Mayfield — the Gibson Pharmacy had been full of families with children waiting to meet Santa. Now it’s completely gone.
And so many businesses that are vital to the community have been so damaged and destroyed in your town as well.
There’s a saying in small towns: People know about it when you’re born, and they care about it when you die. They know about it when you’re born, and they care about it when you die.
Well, in so many places, destruction was met with compassion, neighbors and first responders racing to help and save each other’s lives and support.
I mean, I asked — I’m not joking — I asked, when I got to Mayfield, what the first thing my first res- — my first responders — FEMA and the — and where — what they heard. And they said they were amazed. All they heard was about people just going out, helping one another — everybody. Everybody just stepping up. It’s incredible. It’s incredible how you all step up.
And so, folks, you know, the fact is: I’m going to make sure the federal government steps up and make sure we do every single thing.
For years and years, as U.S. senator and then as Vice President, we — I come from Delaware, and we have a lot of serious storms — hurricanes, oceans rising, a whole range of things.
But you know what? It always took a long time. There’s no reason why it should take any time. We have the wherewithal to get it done. And we’re going to get every single thing you need. And I’m going to make sure the federal government does what’s needed.
At the state’s request, four FEMA search and rescue teams are working here in Kentucky right now. For those without power, FEMA has already provided 61 generators. The Army Corps of Engineers has temporary power install teams to — ready to assist if needed.
And we’ve provided critical supplies thus far and a lot more to come — 144,000 liters of drinking water, 24,000 [sic] meals. You know, I — I just — 74,000. And, look — thousands of cots and blankets. There are seven — seven shelters open in Kentucky, which are now taking care of 300 occupants. But a lot more is going to occur.
Of course, housing is a key. Because of COVID, we want to make sure people are out of those shelters as quickly as they can, because of COVID. And, ultimately, we want to start to provide some certainty for people.
I’ve been involved in responding to a lot of disasters, and you can see it in people’s faces: What they’re really looking for — “And look around,” I say to the press — what they’re looking for is just to be able to put their head down on a pillow, be able to close their eyes, take a deep breath, go to sleep, and make sure their kids are okay. That’s what people are looking for right now.
But a lot of hard work is going to happen in the next two and three months to bring it all the way back.
And so, folks, the Governor — I want to — Gov, I want to provide you the certainty as well. I just approved the request that I wasn’t sure I had the authority to do, but turns out I do.
The government is going to cover 100 percent of the costs — 100 hundred percent of the costs — for the first 30 days for all the emergency work, from clearing everything to — every single cost the federal government is going to take care of. And it includes debris removal, cost of overtime of law enforcement, emergency service personnel, and shelter. And that’ll get you through.
And by the way, I want to thank your wife. She started a toy drive for this part of the state to make sure — how many —
Come here. I’m taking credit for something I have nothing to do with.
MS. BESHEAR: How could you?
THE PRESIDENT: But tell them you got so far.
MS. BESHEAR: Well, as of this morning, we think that we have around 20,000 gifts donated. And we’ve got three more days to go.
THE PRESIDENT: Twenty thousand gifts so no kid is going to sleep — wherever they get to sleep tonight — without a gift. (Applause.) God love you.
And look, we also need to recognize that people have suffered mental and emotional injuries. The cost of this sometimes are unseen and unknown.
You know, people talk about post-traumatic stress in the battlefield as I traveled through Afghanistan and Iraq. Well, guess what? There’s a lot of post-traumatic stress that comes from lying in your house and all of a sudden the roof goes blowing off and you wonder whether your kids are around. I really mean it. So, you know — or the shock of losing a home and a business, the grief of losing someone.
It’s happening right before the holidays, as I said, and we’re going to make sure that you have all the help you need, including the kind of mental help that is needed to help people through difficult times.
And, folks, you know, FEMA has opened Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers in Mayfield and in Dawson Springs. And it has disaster survivor systems teams on the ground here in Kentucky to help people register for assistance.
As I said when I talked to the governor, not only that we’re going to get what you need, we’re going to make sure you know everything’s available, because you don’t always know all that is available — all that is available. And that’s what we’re going to do.
And, folks, you know, if you live in the affected areas, which all of you are standing here watching me do, you know you visit DisasterAssistance.gov — DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA. That’s 1-800-621-3362.
I promise you: You’re going to heal. We’re going to recover. You’re going to rebuild. You’re going to be stronger than you were before. We’re going to build back better than it was.
And when I come back, I got one beautiful lady and her husband who promised me a meal. She’s apparently a hell of a cook, so I’m coming back for the meal.
So, thank you, thank you, thank you for being here.
And to all of the families here: Keep the faith. We’re going to get this done. I promise you, the governor is not walking away. Your county judge is not walking away. Your congressman is not walking away. No one is walking away. We’re in this for the long haul.
Thank you very much for your patience. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, did you say you’re going to cover the costs for 30 days?
Q Does FEMA need more money for Congress in order to fund this response?
THE PRESIDENT: Not now. We don’t need it yet. We don’t need it now.
You know, there has been, because of weather disasters just this year, over $99 billion in losses — $99 billion in losses.
And as I flew over — I was telling folks here — as I was out with the governor of California and Idaho and other states, as you fly over those territories for the better part of an hour, looking down, every single solitary thing is leveled because of the fires. Nothing there — the forest, the homes, the businesses.
And guess what? So much area has burned this year because of weather and climate changes that is larger than the entire state of New Jersey — the entire state of New Jersey. That’s how much land has been burned to the ground.
So, we got a lot to do. We got a lot to do, but the American people are ready to do it. This is the United States of America, there’s not a darn thing we can’t do.
3:18 P.M. CST