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Cookeville, Tennessee

11:36 A.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  This is Governor Bill Lee, and he’s done a fantastic job of working with FEMA and the federal government and state government and everybody, Bill.  And this is real devastation like you’ll never seen, hopefully, again.  This was about as big a tornado as you can have.  It was 50 miles long, which is extraordinarily long, and a very wide one.  And you see what’s happened.  We saw it from the helicopter very well.  You did too.

I just want to thank you very much for the great job you’re doing.

GOVERNOR LEE:  We’re very grateful that you’re here, and Tennesseans are grateful for your support.  We had immediate response from FEMA.  You gave an emergency disaster declaration, which will be very helpful to the families in this community and all across Tennessee who have suffered great loss.

It’s been a — it’s been a painful, tragic week for our state, but Tennesseans are hopeful.  God has used volunteers to bring hope to people all across our state.  And your presence here reminds us that people all across the country care about what’s happening here.  So we’re grateful.

THE PRESIDENT:  They do.  They do.  Thank you.

GOVERNOR LEE:  Yeah.  We’re grateful.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Would you like to say something?

MAYOR SHELTON:  Well, we just so much appreciate you being here and showing compassion.  You called the other night and expressed your sorrow, and now you’ve shown up.  A first time sitting President has ever been in our city and county, and we so appreciate that.  It does show hope and compassion to our community and to our residents.  And we appreciate that very much.  Very much.


MAYOR PORTER:  We live in a great community.  It’s been a devastation, loss of life like our county has never seen in its history.  But the outpouring of love and support from our community, our first responders — we’ve got a great group of folks — it’s been — it’s been an outstanding response for those folks and from the community, all the love and support.

You coming here today just puts a big asterisk on the end of that and shows that the cooperation we’ve had from the federal government and the state government, the Governor and you, has been absolutely amazing.  We have never seen that before.

I’ve been in emergency services for 35 years before I became county mayor.  We have never seen the cooperation and response that we have seen from your administration and from this state’s administration.  So, thank you.

MAYOR SHELTON:  Yes.  And your instant declaration for our communities last night.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  They’re great people.  It’s a great state.  And what is the final count of death in the state itself?  The entire state.

GOVERNOR LEE:  We had 25 Tennesseans lost their lives in this.  Many injured.  Thousands without homes and power and supplies.

But Tennesseans have showed up.  We’re the Volunteer State.  We’ve shown up by the thousands to surround our neighbors and to provide hope and to provide assistance.  And it’s been inspiring.  And we’re going to — we’re going to overcome.  This state knows how to do that.  That’s who we are.  That’s what we do.

And government can do so much, but only the people can really provide the hope.  And they’re — and they’re doing just that in Tennessee.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much.  We’re going to see some of the people that really survived, some not in good shape and some in very good shape — incredibly in good shape.

But anybody in these homes — this is a swath that it went right through, on this side — on this side of the street.  And obviously, anybody in these homes, for the most part, they were killed.  Given very little warning.  They get a phone call, “Hey, there’s a tornado,” and boom, it’s on them.  They just — they just appeared.  And it’s — we’re working very hard.

FEMA is doing a great job.

GOVERNOR LEE:  They’re doing a great job.

THE PRESIDENT:  They were told to do the absolute best.

Thank you very much.  Do you have any questions?

Q    Mr. President, do you have a message for the survivors?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I do have a message, and I have a message for the families of those that lost their lives: We love them; they’re special people.  It’s an incredible place, an incredible state.  Tremendous heart.  Already, you see people rebuilding.  I mean, it took place literally hours ago — a couple of days — and they’re already rebuilding.  I’ve never seen — we were flying over; you see the blue roofs going up.  It’s all over the place.

It’s just great people.  It’s a great state.  And they have great leadership in this state, and that’s why it’s working out like it is.  But still, 25 people, at least, and some really very badly hurt.  Very, very badly hurt.

The mayor was telling me some of the houses came down and they got here right after that happened, and the people are walking out of the houses and — you might explain that, what that looked like.

MAYOR SHELTON:  It was just — you know, it’s a war zone and it’s in the middle of the night, and it’s very — very difficult to maneuver that.

But the first responders — we can’t say enough about the first responders that were here.  They went in — you know, they run in when everybody else is running out.  And they ran in and took care of these folks — the police and fire and EMS.  And it was an amazing night.

MAYOR PORTER:  We had people that were — they were so disoriented, they were wandering out down the roads and through the fields and the woods, trying to get to safety and figure out where they could go.  And our great group of responders took care of them immediately.  And it was — we’re so sad (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT:  They didn’t know what happened.


THE PRESIDENT:  They just — all of a sudden, they’re watching television or something and, all of a sudden, they’re outside, walking on the street.

There was one young boy, I heard he was taken out of the house and —

MAYOR PORTER:  He was.  One minute he’s in his house, the next minute he’s laying in his yard.  It happened that fast.

THE PRESIDENT:  A couple of blocks away.


MAYOR SHELTON:  Another family was — the husband huddled over the wife and child, and the roof came off and he was sucked out.  They were all sucked out into the yard.  They survived.

But I think it’s important to note too that, here in Cookeville, in Putnam County, while there was 25 deaths in the state, 18 of them were right here in our city and county — 8 of them on this particular street.  And so, you know, we can continue to ask for prayers for our community, but these families are going to be burying people in the next — over the next week.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

Q    President Trump, have you been able to speak to any of the survivors or any of the victims’ families while you’ve been out today?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  We’re doing it and we’re doing it now.  We’re going to also, I think, stop at the church where there are a lot of people huddled up in the church.  It’s a cold day and they’re all huddled up.  We’re going to the church also.  We’re seeing some of the people over here.

Q    Mr. President, on another, sort of, tragic topic regarding the coronavirus: Are you considering refer- — or deferring taxes for the airlines, cruise ships, and travel companies that are being hard hit by this?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re looking at different options.  Different options.

We did get tremendous job numbers this morning.  They were — you know, if you add the 80,000 to the 270 — you know, they were talking in the 350,000 range.  But right now, that’s not something we want to be talking about.  Okay?  Thank you.

Q    Mr. President, you approved federal funding in Tennessee.


Q    Can you tell us when you would expect to see that money coming to the state?

THE PRESIDENT:  Very quickly.  Almost momentarily.  I did it.  The mayor called me.  The Governor called me.  We had calls from a lot of people.  That was an immediate emergency.  But we’ve spoken — we approved it within minutes of the call.

Q    Do you know about how much?

THE PRESIDENT:  To be determined.  What they need — we’re going to take care of what they need.

GOVERNOR LEE:  We’ll be doing assessments, and that helps determine what the numbers will be.  The way it works is, as we determine the amount, that’s how the numbers will be assessed and that’s how — what the assistance will be.

THE PRESIDENT:  Much of that money goes to help the people that got just wiped out.

GOVERNOR LEE:  That’s right.

THE PRESIDENT:  They’re wiped out.  They have nothing.  And — and many people died.

Q    We’ve been talking to some people out here throughout the past couple of days.  Do you have any words for them that you may not be able to meet today but have been devastated by this?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I love them.  I love them very much.  That’s why I’m here.  Some people wouldn’t be here.  There was no way that I wasn’t going to stop here first.  And I was going to do it yesterday, but they asked me for one more day because they — they were looking for — they were looking for bodies, believe it or not, up until just now.  They now — they’ve pretty much covered everything.  But — and just God be with them.  And we’re going to be with them.  We’re going to be with them all the way.

And I can tell you, the Governor feels the same as I do.  And the mayors — I just want to congratulate you, because the job you’ve done, everybody is talking about it.  They haven’t slept in 48 hours.  Neither have you, come to think of it.  So we’re going to go see the people now and say hello to them and do whatever you can do.  It’s tough.

A lot of them have lost people within the family.  One family got entirely wiped out.  There was one case, though — I heard a young man was — an 8-year-old boy was ripped out, flown to a certain area, and dropped off at the street two or three blocks away.  And they found him walking.  And he said, “I just flew in the air.”  And he was walking down the street two blocks away from his home.  And how did his parents do?  Do you know?

MAYOR PORTER:  We don’t — we’re not for sure exactly how they turned up.

MR. HERRICK:  They were found deceased.

THE PRESIDENT:  They were deceased?  They were dead.

MR. HERRICK: (Inaudible) only surviving member of the household, and lost his sibling as well.

THE PRESIDENT:  So it took him and he said, “I was carried by the air, away from my house.”  He came back.  But his —

MR. HERRICK:  He was (inaudible) the house over there and dropped him in the neighborhood back behind us.

THE PRESIDENT:  He was over there.  And his parents were killed.

MAYOR PORTER:  And sister.

THE PRESIDENT:  And his sister.  So we’re going to go see some of the folks.


11:46 A.M. CST