Remarks to the Press En Route Alabama
Remarks to the Press En Route Alabama
En Route Mobile, Alabama
September 4, 2005
(10:00 a.m. EDT)
QUESTION: What the latest you've been told? What are we going to be walking into?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think of the three states, Alabama survived best. It was the one that was the least hard hit. But of course, in any normal times, (inaudible) hurricane probably would have -- in Alabama would have been really (inaudible). But we're going to go down. We're going to visit a shelter. We're going to see American volunteers doing what American volunteers do best, which is helping their fellow Americans in an hour of need.
I'm looking forward to going to the church service before. I think it's important to do that with the community, but also as I myself am a very religious person, I wanted --
SECRETARY RICE: Presbyterian. Yes, right. I wanted to have a chance to go to church first thing, and I'll do that with several officials from around the state. So I don't know precisely what the bayou area looks like, but we'll go down and have a look.
QUESTION: Will you be speaking at the church service?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I'm going to be there as a (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: One never knows what's happens from the pulpit if somebody (inaudible). (Laughter.) One never knows. But I don't expect to speak. Let me put it that way.
I also just wanted to note that we've been spending a lot of time over the last several days looking at the really tremendous response from the rest of the world. People have said that America has been so generous in times like this in other places, and now it is time to be generous to America. And we've received offers of assistance from some 70 countries now, countries as powerful and big as France or China, and as small as the Bahamas, or one of the most touching ones for me was Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from its own natural disaster.
QUESTION: And how much are they -- what are they giving?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they've offered a cash donation.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was $25,000.
SECRETARY RICE: $25,000.
MR. MCCORMACK: I can run through some of the specifics with you afterwards, give you the figures and everything.
SECRETARY RICE: But we are also now really starting to see the benefit of these donations because we're being able to now to begin to make use of the donations that are coming in. We've had to match requirements on the ground with the offers that were coming in, but those matches are now starting to take place. And we have received and used helicopters from Canada and Singapore. Air Canada planes are being used for evacuation. Finland has been providing logistics experts. One of the big needs was MREs, meals-ready-to-eat, and Germany and Italy have provided those. We've actually gone out to ask countries if they can provide more MREs because that has turned out to be a very big need. We've been offering -- accepting offers of pharmaceuticals and bilateral (inaudible) from Canada. We've gotten emergency supplies from Mexico and Japan and the UK, ships from Greece to provide housing for displaced persons.
And I want to highlight that the United Nations last night -- is that right, (inaudible)? -- sent down their disaster relief experts who are now going to assist with recovery efforts. They met with us last night. I think they're going to now do meetings with FEMA and others. They've obviously -- there are a lot of very good disaster relief experts. And in the same vein, and I just want to say we really appreciate the way that Secretary General Kofi Annan, the spirit in which this was offered, and he said the United States has been generous so much, we need to be generous to the United States. So having the UN involved is a very good thing.
QUESTION: And you said -- when did that come?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they came -- we got -- I got the offer almost immediately. But they came down last night -- their team -- to do the planning now, and now we'll get involved in the planning and see where the aid can best be used. Obviously, it's been hard to get into certain places, but that will be getting easier and getting disaster relief people in and recovery experts will be an important next step.
In the same vein, the USAID, which is -- Andrew Natsios is the head of that agency under the State Department -- is the agency that has done disaster relief abroad and they have set up a 24-hour, 24/7 support unit for FEMA so that we can take advantage of our expertise and even equipment and people in disaster relief abroad to help and assist in the circumstances. We have a particularly strong and good working relationship with the military because we've done it all over the world and so it's good that USAID can help in this effort as well.
QUESTION: There was a rumor earlier this week that USAID was actually needing to take over some of the operations, that FEMA couldn't handle it. Is there anything to that?
SECRETARY RICE: No, we've been assisting FEMA. This is something unprecedented in the United States and so -- but it's not unprecedented abroad and so it is the case that I think USAID brings some expertise and some experience that has been, I hope, very helpful (inaudible) and I think will be more helpful. We deal often with internally displaced people and evacuees and that sort of thing on a large scale, and so FEMA has actually had some of the officers from USAID that are sitting with its task force, and now USAID has set up its own task force to help coordinate on the international side and make sure assistance is getting where it is needed.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of holistic number of how much aid in dollar amounts?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we'll get that for you. It's still coming in and I think we'll have to put a value on some of it. I mean, there have been a lot of cash donations, which are particularly helpful to the American Red Cross, very large amounts coming in. But Sean will go over that.
MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) go through, get dollar figures and some of the specifics (inaudible).
QUESTION: What exactly does the role of the Secretary of State have to do coming into Alabama?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, when I talked to the President on Thursday around lunchtime and I said -- I told him what we were doing on the international side, you know, how generous people were being on the international side and that we were coordinating those efforts, but I also said to him, "But if there's anything that I can do outside of my responsibilities as Secretary of State, I'd be happy to do that, too."
And I'm a Southerner. I was born in Alabama. My father was born and raised in Louisiana. And I just thought that it would be helpful to have a member of the Administration go to Alabama and to have some of the people there to have a sense of how much it's on all of our minds and all of our prayers, how much we care about what's happening there. The President is -- you know, his heart aches when he sees Americans in need, and so that's a message that I can carry. But it's not my normal responsibility as Secretary of State, but it really is because I am a member of the Administration and I want to try and be helpful.
QUESTION: Do you still have family down there? Is your father still alive?
SECRETARY RICE: No, my father is deceased. I have very little family left in Louisiana, some fairly distant cousins, but in the Baton Rouge area. And my family in Alabama, I have some distant relatives in Mobile, but my family in Alabama is mostly in Birmingham and in Tuscaloosa -- all in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa -- and fortunately, the brunt of the storm didn't hit there. But they are taking in a lot of people and working shelters.
QUESTION: Have you talked to them in the last couple of days?
SECRETARY RICE: I talked to my aunt and uncle last night in Birmingham. And I won't get a chance to see them, but I know they're going to be doing a lot. I mean, the State of Alabama is, fortunately, it seems to me, (inaudible) somewhat better, but it's tough going (inaudible) Alabama.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Do you think your presence is going to help some of the criticism that the Administration has gotten about whether or not the relief efforts have been racially motivated?
SECRETARY RICE: I just hope that when people stop and think about that, they say that it's just not -- I mean, how could that be the case? Americans don't want to see Americans suffer. And I just don't believe that people are saying, oh, well, those are African-Americans so we won't -- this was a disaster of enormous proportion and to a certain extent it overwhelmed the systems initially that were set up to deal with it.
Clearly, one of the questions that people will have to deal with is when you have a large-scale evacuation, (inaudible) the poor and the sick -- of any color -- but particularly sick people and older people, are the ones who have difficulty getting out. And so I'm sure that everybody is going to take a hard look at how to do that better.
But when you think about past cases (inaudible) almost near simultaneous three hurricanes in Florida last year (inaudible) this was just extraordinary circumstance. And I just know the President and I know his heart and I know that he is -- he really aches for these people. And nobody, most especially the President, would have left people unattended because of their race. It just isn't in his makeup or the makeup of the people of like Mike Chertoff and Mike Brown or FEMA. (Inaudible) and I just don't believe it.
And I think when people step back and look, there will be lots to understand about why people couldn't get out, but I don't think it had anything to do with race.
QUESTION: Did you think the response was appropriate?
SECRETARY RICE: Appropriate?
QUESTION: I mean the federal response, the relief effort. Do you think that --
SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible) people who have worked very hard and I think the President himself said (inaudible) that we had to do better, that the level was not adequate. And that's why yesterday he ordered (inaudible) and, you know, I think they really are getting on top of it and we're going to start to see (inaudible).
But it's also going to be a long-term effort. This isn't something that is going to get immediately better because there was a lot of devastation. I think this country will really come together. I was listening this morning to a news report about schools around the country in states -- higher education, preparing to take in slightly displaced or, actually, (inaudible) displaced. I think you'll see a lot of that kind of response because Americans are generous in their (inaudible) together (inaudible) other Americans are in need. But (inaudible) relief effort (inaudible) try and get through this and get out on the other side.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) wondering if foreign aid is going to be affected (inaudible). As you mentioned, this is going to take a long, long time for the region to recover. It'll cost millions of dollars and, you know, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade, possibly. Is that going to affect how much money (inaudible) overseas (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think when you think of (inaudible) overseas (inaudible), it's linked to our security. What we learned in a very hard way on September 11th is that there are places like Afghanistan that are -- where (inaudible). We are going to have to continue to provide American assistance to the places where we are trying to create a better environment, better relations, so that we don't continue to face terrorism on every front. So since this is linked to our security, I think we'll have to (inaudible). America can't become isolated and withdrawn.
The other thing is that Americans are going to remain compassionate (inaudible) people (inaudible) are in very dire need (inaudible) is that I really think a lot of (inaudible) response internationally that we're getting is (inaudible) compassion and when people are compassionate. And when you are compassionate, you want to return that compassion. So that's the lesson that I take from this is that all the years that America was the largest food aid donor and the largest donor of regional development, and people know that. And from the wealthiest country in the world to the poorest, there is (inaudible).
QUESTION: Will you get a chance to have another vacation after this anytime soon?
SECRETARY RICE: I think I'm going to have to wait a little while. It's been a busy August. You know, I knew with the Iraqi constitution (inaudible) all of this has -- it was going to be a very busy August. Frankly, I thought after the constitution (inaudible), we'd have a little break (inaudible) but it didn't (inaudible). So that's (inaudible).
QUESTION: And you had to cut your vacation short?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, (inaudible) going to have to do it. I knew by Thursday night I wanted to get back to Washington (inaudible). I belong (inaudible) the President. As I said, it wasn't really so much my duties as Secretary of State because I was managing, I think, pretty well the overall international relief effort. (Inaudible), our Executive Secretary, set up a task force and we were taking in offers and getting them (inaudible). But (inaudible) and I have (inaudible).
QUESTION: So are you getting (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Just one last question. Were you -- I don't know. Were you at all surprised about the reaction that you got in New York? Were you disappointed or does that say anything (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I started my vacation (inaudible) Iraqi constitution (inaudible) and I (inaudible) but by Thursday when I checked in with Mike Chertoff (inaudible) and talked to the President around lunchtime, (inaudible) go back. And nobody had to tell me where I needed to be.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
Released on September 4, 2005