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Public Papers - 1989 - October

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake

1989-10-18

The President. I believe effective Federal effort under the leadership of FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] -- 25, more or less, Federal agencies coordinating their work to try to help in this disaster in San Francisco. So, we got an up-to-date briefing on where things stood. But I had an opportunity to thank the men and women of FEMA and the volunteer -- there's an enormous volunteer effort that adds to and supplements the work of the professionals.

Fortuitously, they had had a drill on a disaster of this nature, an earthquake disaster, not so many weeks ago, and they've been through a lot of the procedures that are now being followed. And in a sense, if there's anything good out of a disaster of this nature, it is that the Agency was well prepared to task the component agencies to be effective. And we talked to the representative of the Governor of California, who was highly appreciative of the work that FEMA is doing.

So, I think the machinery is working. We've made very clear we want to be as responsive as possible on behalf of the Federal Government. And they're still in a sorting-out process in terms of the total damage. So, that's about where we stand.

Q. What is the extent of casualties?

Q. What are you sending?

The President. Well, right now it's people to assess damage, and then obviously we follow on with assistance to families. Part of the emergency preparation has got to be being sure that Federal hospital facilities, for example, like the Veterans Affairs Department, be ready to receive people.

And one encouraging news is that -- take that one, for example -- they are not being overwhelmed by requests to take people in right now. So, maybe we can take some encouragement in terms of the total number of injured, but we're not sure yet. That's part of the problem.

Q. Sir, will you be going to San Francisco?

Q. What is the latest on casualties?

The President. Well, we don't have a figure. They were using a figure roughly of 250. But then I think the Lieutenant Governor has indicated it might not be that high, they told me. But there's no certainty. That's the problem. So, it's dangerous to get into making those predictions until houses have been visited, the part of the bridge that fell lifted, and then we'll have a much better idea.

Q. Are you going to San Francisco, sir?

The President. I probably will. But as I indicated earlier at the White House, it is important that this emergency machinery operate with total efficiency. And I want to be considerate of the fact that when I do go someplace it could be slightly disruptive, so I will have the timing that it will not get in the way of people that are busily doing their job right now.

Q. Will this be a better, faster -- --

Q. Will you be excusing Federal employees like you did with [Hurricane] Hugo?

The President. I don't know what the plans are for that right now out there. I think many of them are not able to get to work.

Q. What about troops on standby for any -- --

The President. They are. General Smith gave us a briefing on what the military has done. Certain Guard units have been mobilized. There's helicopter capacity available. And so, the military from the very start tied into this, Secretary Cheney instructing General Smith to give full cooperation. So, those assets are available to help.

Q. How quickly can Federal money get to the people who need it, Mr. President?

The President. The what?

Q. How quickly can the Federal money get to the homeless and people who need it immediately?

The President. Well, it can get there quite quickly. But that leads me to say we work very closely in that regard with the States. And I've been told that they are working quite effectively. Governor Sununu, in touch with them yesterday evening, just reminded me that they are doing a superb job on assessing the needs. But the Federal Government can move right in behind that.

Q. Is it going to be quicker than the response, sir -- and better -- to Hurricane Hugo this time?

The President. Well, I hope there will be less carping. I thought the response to Hugo was very good. And this gives me an opportunity -- an appropriate place -- to say that I am very grateful to the men and women of FEMA for what they did in Hugo, whether it was on the mainland or whether it was in the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. But I guess you can never avoid all criticism. But FEMA then responded very promptly, and I can assure you they're responding very, very promptly now. I think they took a bad hit on that other one from some quarters. But right now, I think people are giving them full support in South Carolina, North Carolina, as well as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, too.

Q. Why does FEMA still not have a Director, sir?

The President. I don't know the answer to why they don't have a Director, but they've got a very effective Acting Director and team. And that's the thing that matters, especially in a disaster of this nature.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:25 a.m. at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, following a tour of the facility. In his remarks, he referred to Maj. Gen. James Smith, Director of the Directorate of Military Support at the Department of Defense. An earthquake that registered 6.9 on the Richter scale hit the San Francisco Bay area on October 17.

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