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FEMA Director Allbaugh Speaks in Davenport, Iowa

Aired April 26, 2001 - 13:23   ET


JOIE CHEN CNN ANCHOR: Latest update from Davenport, Iowa, now. The Mississippi River remains well above flood stage there. The nation's federal disaster chief is in Davenport today to see it all for himself. Earlier this week, he criticized the city for its lack of a protective floodwall. And that angered some officials.

We get more on today's visit with CNN's Bob Franken, who is there now -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Joie, I just got off the bus following the FEMA Director Mr. Allbaugh along with the city's Mayor Phil Yerington and a number of officials from Illinois and Iowa as they toured Davenport. Earlier, they had toured Keithsburg, Illinois, a small town had suffered serious flooding.

But here, of course, is where there had been the Washington and Davenport, Iowa confrontation as the mayor and the FEMA direct had exchanged barbs over whether a city that does not have a levee should in fact use taxpayer dollars. That, of course, incensed the mayor. But they talked yesterday.

And so today as they got on the bus, Allbaugh made a big show of asking the mayor to sit next to him, put his arm around the mayor and said, "I've got my arm around the mayor. This would be good press." Then they went on to talk about the situation here.

They talked about the fact the mayor said that they'd done a lot of work here. Later on in the bus ride, the FEMA director said, "It's a tough job that you do here."

They toured the entire area with stops along the waterfront that we've gotten to know so well with all the sandbags piled up. They call that the Gettysburg area. They also went to other parts of town. We got a view of Joe Allbaugh watching the stadium, which, of course, lost its battle against the Mississippi, the baseball stadium where the single-A baseball club the River Bandits normally would play, the city of course saying that they gave up efforts to save that. The baseball team is playing elsewhere.

They went around the city. Right now, they're having a meeting to discuss the possibility of federal aide. Now, Allbaugh did not want to talk about this rift that he had with the mayor, did not want to talk about it. But at one point, a reporter persisted, asking, "Do you regret saying what you did?" And repeatedly he said, "No," that we, meaning the media, took it out of context, that he was really talking about the entire area.

As a matter of fact, he's walking past right now suggesting to me that we're about to begin a news conference. Why don't we go to the beginnings of this news conference? Mr. Allbaugh is, by the way, going to speak.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had a great opportunity this morning to view the flood damages in the Davenport area. And at this time, I am going to introduce four gentlemen to you. And they're going to each say a few words. And then you will have an opportunity for questions and answers.

First we'll start with Illinois Emergency Management Director Mike Chamness here on behalf of Governor Ryan.

MIKE CHAMNESS, ILLINOIS EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR: Thank you, Ellen. First of all, I wan to thank Director Allbaugh for coming to Illinois and Iowa today to view the flood situation.

I toured the area with Governor Ryan on Saturday and again on Tuesday. The governor had to be in Washington today. Today, I also toured it with State Representative Mike Boland from Moline, whose own office on River Drive is surrounded by water.

We are holding our own in Illinois. The levees appear to be holding. If we don't get the heavy winds we got on Monday, we don't get a big second crest or heavy rainfall, most of the communities that were devastated in '93 are going to survive better this year.

There are two reasons for that. One is the mitigation effort that has taken place in Illinois since 1993 with FEMA.

Illinois used to be tenth in the country in repetitive flood loss. In the past two years, we've gone down to seventeenth. We have purchased more than 3,000 pieces of property out of the floodplains since 1993.

And the second piece to what's working in Illinois right now is the effort that was put forth, the proactive effort that the local communities put forth in cooperation with the state of Illinois. We have 250 National Guardsmen on duty, Illinois Department of Transportation, inmate work crews from corrections, and all of the other agencies, natural resources, a great partnership between local, state and federal agencies. And like all of you, I'm just hoping that the sun stays out and the rain and the winds stay away. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mike. I would like to next introduce my boss, the Honorable Governor Tom Vilsack.

GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: This is obviously a difficult time for the state of Iowa. But when tragedy and natural disaster occur, the state of Iowa becomes a single community.

We have had 13 counties that have been impacted by natural disaster in the last several weeks. This follows a long, tough, difficult winter for many of these communities. The fact that the director would take his time today to tour this area is greatly appreciated by the people of our state. I think he is seeing firsthand the devastation that these river waters have occasioned. And he also has learned some extensive work that these communities have undergone over the course of the last several years to reduce the damage.

Even though we are at or near record levels of water in some of our communities, the damages are not as severe as they were in '93 because of the proactive efforts of the communities like Davenport and places up and down the Mississippi.

Would want to say one thing about the great work of those who have battled these floodwaters for several weeks. Young people in particular from communities up and down the Mississippi have been engaged and involved in volunteer efforts. I'm extraordinarily proud of the National Guard, our Department of Transportation, Natural Resources, and Public Safety officials and Emergency Management officials for the job that they've done. The local officials, the public works folks, the sheriff's office, the chief of police and his force all have done an extraordinary job.

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the process for this community. When these waters crest, many of us will leave and go back to other problems and activities. But these communities will just begin the work of cleanup. That's where we need a continued understanding of the sense of community from our nation.

We're going to need help and assistance. That's why we have requested that the director and the president consider our request for an emergency declaration at the national level because there are over 1,500 homes impacted by these floodwaters. There have been over 300 businesses who have had their operations disrupted. Hundreds of lives have been affected.

We, again, appreciate the director's willingness to take time and learn. He has been extraordinarily gracious and extraordinarily helpful. And we want to express appreciation to FEMA. The folks that the district and local level have also been extraordinarily helpful.

Director, again, thanks very much for your willingness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, thank you. We're also honored to have with us on the flood tour Congressman Jim Leach. Congressman.

REP. JIM LEACH (R), IOWA: I want to make just two observations. One, we welcome Director Allbaugh coming here to eastern Iowa on behalf of the president of the United States.

And as everybody knows, there's a little philosophical conflict to some degree. And I'm very impressed with the constructive spirit, whatever decisions have been made, that the United States government wants to respond sympathetically. Director Allbaugh has made that very clear.

Secondly, on behalf of the community, it is very, very difficult not to be anything except impressed with the community spirit, the number, as has been indicated, of young people; uniformed people; the Iowa, Illinois National Guard; the local sheriffs and police. And I would like to comment about one other set of uniformed people, and that is the inmates. We have a big sense of community in America. And under a very progressive sheriff, for example, in Scott County Iowa, inmates have been helping with flood protection. And I think the community ought to express its gratitude.

Finally, and just as an observer of the United States Corps of Engineers for many years, I want to say that we all owe a debt of thanks to the Corps' work on this flood. And also, we ought to think through as a society what it would be like if we didn't have a lock- and-dam system. And it would be a much worse circumstance than the fact that we do. And so I think the Corps, which sometimes comes under a lot of criticism, ought to be given a big slap on the back.

Thanks very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, congressman.

Governor Vilsack mentioned that some of us go home, and there's others left behind to start working on the recovery to continue to try to rebuild and move on.

Mayor Phil Yerington is one of those individuals that we've had the opportunity to be with this morning, and he shared with us some of the challenges that he's had over the last couple of weeks. But he did comment that everyone still has a smile on their face. And that's very true. Phil?

MAYOR PHIL YERINGTON, DAVENPORT, IOWA: Well, on behalf of the citizens of Davenport, and especially those who have been fighting the last two, two and a half weeks, a near-record flood, I want to thank first of all Governor Vilsack and our FEMA reps from Des Moines. They have fought along with us the last two weeks. It's been very comforting to know that they've been watching our situation in Des Moines, and that they have started the request for federal disaster relief.

I also want to personally thank director Allbaugh, especially from the people of Davenport, for the time that he has put into touring this community. And I think we accomplished three things: we were able to show him and the world that we are a river town, and we are a great river town.

And that we know that we have floods and we expect to carry our own and we're not looking for free handout. We were able to show him what we're going through right now. As he walked the flood line, I was very impressed with the compassionate way that he treated the people who were sandbagging, especially some of our city employees, who are still smiling, although the smiles are wearing a little bit thin.

We were able to show him how well we were prepared for this flood as compared to 1993 and '97. We were able to sit down with him and show him some of the things that we have learned. And I think, for the first time in this city's history and our fight against the river, we've actually battled it to a tie. We're never going to beat the river. Nobody ever beats the river.

But we've been on a losing string, and because of the efforts of the people in this community, in fact, all over the Midwest, those who from outside of our state, and within our state, came here to help sandbag in the early days, we were able to get a half a million sandbags distributed to over 130 residences and businesses. And we were prepared for this flood, and we have fought it off, and our damage is going to be minimum.

We were also able to show Director Allbaugh what we've done in the past since 1984 -- some of the decisions that we have made, based upon the past flood damage. We've been able to show that we're not sitting idle. We have tried to take steps to minimize the damage, and we would assume those steps in the future. We may never have another flood of this magnitude. We've had three 100-year floods in the last eight years. This may not happen again to us for another 100 years, or it may happen in the year 2002.

What we've learned from this, and how we prepared for this speaks highly of the community and the spirit of the people in the Midwest. It's a very compassionate group that's not looking for anything more than what they think they deserve in the way of assistance for living in an area that could be prone to natural disaster.

So again, I want to thank the director and all of the people at FEMA. They have been a great help for us. We appreciate the time that they've taken today, and we were able to show how truly great this community is, and be able to prove that even though we're a river town, we can fight the elements, we can hold our own with the elements, and we're not asking for anything more than our fair share when it comes to damages and cleanup. So, Director, I want to thank you for your time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mayor, thank you. FEMA director Joe Allbaugh is a busy man and we know that, but he has taken time out of his busy schedule these last several hours to be here in Davenport. To see first-hand some of the things that we've been struggling with.

At this time, I'd like to turn the podium over to director Joe Allbaugh.


Three things: One I want to thank Governor Vilsack and Mayor Yerington for their warm and kind hospitality today. They've welcomed me here in Davenport, Quad-Cities area with very open arms, and I appreciate that. We've had a great time this morning.

I flew in this morning very early, and flew over Keithsburg and Hampton and Campbell's Island, and we have some serious problems. Then came over to Davenport and spent about an hour and a half 2 touring the area.

I'd like to say congratulations, quite frankly, to the Quad Cities area and folks up and down the Mississippi. They have learned their lessons from the '93 flood. They were prepared, as the mayor and governor have said, to handle this in a much better fashion. And I congratulate them for taking those preemptive measures.

Progress is made by small steps for all of us. We take it a step at a time. And they still have a second crest to weather, quite frankly, and I think they're prepared to handle it.

Lastly, I was primarily here at the direction of the president of the United States to listen, to learn, and to report back. And I'm prepared, after I visited Hoisington, Kansas, this afternoon, to go back and report to the president that these folks have done a great job. Congratulations to them. We have work to do.

Governor Vilsack has a request in, which I will be handling quickly. Governor Ryan of Illinois has -- is in the process of submitting a request, which we will handle quickly as well, and get to the president with our recommendations. Thank you very much for having me here today.

QUESTION: Sir, can you give us an idea of what your recommendation is going to be, based on what you saw today?

ALLBAUGH: Well, quite frankly, it's tied to two things, Bob. One, specifically, what the governor's request was, where they need assets and assistance.

Two, we have to let the water recede a little bit. Our teams are on the ground both on the Illinois side and the Iowa side doing preliminary damage assessments. As soon as the water recedes, we'll have a better handle on what kind of assets and money we can bring forward. But we'll be reviewing that. Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks. But we'll be on top of it.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up, sir?

ALLBAUGH: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate, however, recommending that federal money is provided to this area?

ALLBAUGH: I don't know. I need to see the request, Bob. That's part of the reason why I'm here. One of the things you have to learn, as the mayor correctly pointed out, you can't get a feel for these things sitting in Washington, D.C. That's why I love to get out and view these things firsthand. It's real important for me to have that hands-on view of the damages that are inflicting several communities, so I can report directly to the president of the United States. That's who I report to.

QUESTION: Do you feel that this city needs a flood wall?

ALLBAUGH: Look, I don't believe that now is the time or the place to discuss that. There will be another place and a time for public debate on that issue, a public discussion. I am here to listen, to learn, and I appreciate everyone welcoming me here today. And more importantly, educating me as to what they went through in '93, '97, and this year.

CHEN: FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, speaking in Davenport, Iowa as part of his tour today of some of the flooded regions along the Mississippi.

Of course, Mr. Allbaugh had created some controversy earlier in the week by suggesting that Davenport needed to have gotten itself a flood wall earlier, before the flooding came into place, and shouldn't be going around asking for federal money in the absence of putting up its own flood wall.

Today, however, he noted that he didn't feel that it was time to be discussing that particular issue. He said that he was in Davenport and in the Midwest to listen and hear what the problems are, as they are in the Midwest right now.



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