Clinton brings aid, solace to survivors of Okla. tornadoes

Government to provide temporary work for those left jobless by twisters

May 09, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

DEL CITY, Okla. -- President Clinton brought personal solace and the promise of federal financial aid yesterday to tornado survivors in Oklahoma, where devastating twisters killed 41 people and caused more than $600 million in property losses Monday.

On a walking tour of the hard-hit Frolic Meadows neighborhood southwest of Oklahoma City, the president spent 90 minutes embracing residents and offering his sympathy.

Tammy Weston, a mother of three whose family "lost it all" when the storm hit, said the president's words of consolation "made us feel better, actually."

"It's like when you were small and your father came and said, `It's going to be OK,' " Weston told a reporter. "It feels like the whole country is behind us, not just Oklahomans."

Phillip Squires, another storm survivor who shook the president's hand and chatted with him briefly, said Clinton "told me he was glad to see we're OK. That made me feel pretty good."

Later, addressing dozens of residents gathered across the street from David Haiden's demolished home on Angela Drive, the president said the Labor Department would spend $12 million to provide temporary jobs for 3,500 residents who lost their jobs in Oklahoma "because their businesses were taken out by the tornado."

Those left unemployed by the storms "will be paid to serve at relief centers, to distribute food and water, to help on construction crews," Clinton said. "They'll be able to feed their families by rebuilding their communities."

Disaster relief

Clinton also said he would ask Congress to add $372 million to the government's disaster relief fund to help victims in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Tennessee rebuild their destroyed homes and businesses. Although Oklahoma was the hardest hit, the storm system also caused considerable damage and several deaths in the other states.

"Our hearts go out to you, especially the families of those who lost their lives," said Clinton.

In addition, Clinton said he would press Congress to approve his $10 million budget request for the National Weather Service's next generation of Doppler radar.

An improved Doppler system would further increase the warning times for tornadoes, Clinton said, giving people more time to seek shelter and a better chance of survival.

Earlier in the day, the president got an aerial view of the widespread devastation on a 25-minute trip aboard a Marine helicopter with Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Gazing down at entire subdivisions flattened by the half-mile-wide twister with winds topping 260 mph, Clinton called the rare Category 5 storm "the biggest, most intense tornado I have seen."

"It's amazing people lived through this," the governor said. "It's a miracle," the president agreed.

Clinton recalled that when he "was a kid, we had old-fashioned storm cellars, like the one at my grandfather's house. It's too bad most houses don't have basements now."

`Strong housing codes'

Clinton told Keating he favored "strong housing codes" nationwide to protect Americans who live in the paths of tornadoes and hurricanes.

As the trip ended, Keating told the president that "over 5,000 homes have been left uninhabitable. Yet there has been no looting."

"This is a real tribute to Oklahomans," the president replied.

Clinton flew to Oklahoma from Texas, where he raised $700,000 Friday at Democratic Party fund-raising events in Houston and Austin.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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