Town and Country Neighborhood
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for being here. President Trump asked me to be in Oklahoma and make sure the people of Oklahoma knew that we are with them today and we’re going to stay with them in places like Town and Country, and all over this state, until we build these communities bigger and better than ever before.
Our hearts grieve for the loss of life. And we sent our condolences and our sympathies to the families of those six who were lost in the wake of these storms. But in the midst of that, we are grateful. We are grateful for the local leadership and the first responders so well represented here.
Governor Stitt, thank you for the job the National Guard has done in the wake of these historic storms. Dr. Droegemeier, who knows Oklahoma well and knows the weather well, told me that there had been 800 incidents of flooding and severe storms and tornadoes in the state of Oklahoma alone since May the 1st.
And the way that your first responders at the state and local level stepped in undoubtedly saved lives. And, Governor, we want you to pass along our great admiration and our respects —
GOVERNOR STITT: Will do.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — to each and every one of them.
And I also want to say that the local leadership has been remarkable. I know Mayor Bynum was here from Tulsa, and also Karen with the local leadership here. I mean, to be meeting with these residents and to hear that you’ve been here, and Congressman Hern and Congressman Mullin have been here in this community, I think, speaks volumes about the character of your leadership and also the character of this state.
I’m pleased to be joined today some of our top officials when it comes to emergency management. Pete Gaynor runs FEMA for us; he’s our acting Director. And, of course, Kevin McAleenan is the acting Secretary of Homeland Security. I asked them to be along not because this is their first time out at the front where these storms are impacting all across the Heartland of this country, but because I wanted them to be here to be able to emphasize to the families that help is on the way.
This last weekend, before he left for an overseas trip, President Trump signed the latest disaster declaration. And we want families to know, all across Oklahoma, that resources are available to help build your home, loans are available to help rebuild your business, and we’re going to continue to provide support — Governor, and Mayor, and to local officials — to these communities to rebuild the impacted infrastructure all across Oklahoma.
I thought I might ask Kevin McAleenan, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, to step up. He’s also run FEMA for us. And I thought you might just reflect on what we’re seeing here and the kind of resources that are available.
ACTING SECRETARY MCALEENAN: Absolutely. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. It’s a true honor to be here and see this whole-of-community effort here in Tulsa in responding to this disaster. I appreciate the leadership at the state level of Governor Stitt and his team; Mark Gower and Emergency Management.
What we do at the federal level is we’re here to support the state and the local leadership that’s getting this response done, that’s being here in the community and working for every — all the citizens.
And what I’m seeing is not only are families taking care of themselves, but volunteers from around the country are responding — and really just that whole-of-community, whole-of-government effort and response.
And so my message is that: On the federal level, we’re going to be here throughout this recovery. We’re going to be here for you throughout the entire period.
And I’d like to ask Pete Gaynor, our FEMA Administrator to talk a little bit about some of the benefits that are available now that the President has signed the major disaster declaration on Saturday.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Pete.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: Yes, sir. So we understand that this is catastrophic for this neighborhood and neighborhoods like this around Oklahoma. The President has authorized resources to help individual families like we meet today.
FEMA is on the ground today. And the best thing you can do if you haven’t registered, please register with FEMA. 1-800-621-FEMA. Again, 1-800-621-FEMA. Make sure they give you a registration number and keep in contact. And individual assistance is available today. As a matter of fact, we have about 500 registered. We expect about 4,000, I think, is our mark. We’ve already given out about $50,000 already in a couple of days. That will grow.
You can get assistance for temporary shelter, assistance with uninsured contents, and the list goes on. But the first thing you have to do is register. And that’s really the message today. If you haven’t done it, do it today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Pete. Well said.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: Thank you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And, Governor, your thoughts?
GOVERNOR STITT: You know —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you for your leadership.
GOVERNOR STITT: Oh, absolutely. Well, it’s just such an honor for us to have you, Mr. Vice President, Karen — for you guys to come visit our communities here. This is the second trip to Oklahoma that you’ve made. And your phone calls, the President’s leadership — he called me when we were touring the damage from a hur- — from a tornado there in El Reno.
And so I just can’t thank you enough for the swift response, for your FEMA directors, for the Secretary of Army — all of the folks that have reached out from a federal level to make sure that we have the resources here. President Trump signing the declaration is so important to get assets here on the ground.
And again, like you, I’ve just been so impressed with Oklahomans and the volunteers. Every place we stop, they’ve told me how the church groups, and the volunteers, and the people from around the country — I just met folks from Washington, New York, Colorado — that are coming to serve and help. And so just neighbors helping neighbors. It’s so impressive for us to see.
But really, it’s just an honor for us to have you here in Oklahoma, Mr. Vice President. And Oklahomans — we love you, we support you, and we thank you for taking your time to come see what’s happening here on the ground in Oklahoma in our communities.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Governor. Thank you for those kind words, and especially for your leadership and your entire team.
Karen and I wanted to be here, really, to make sure that people like Mike, people like these newlyweds behind us, the families that we’ve met with know we’re with you. We’re all with you at the federal and the state level, and we’re going to help you rebuild your homes and your communities bigger and better than ever before.
But I also wanted to express a word of admiration. First, for these remarkable volunteers from New York — (inaudible) told me you’re from New York City as well. We got people from Washington State —
PARTICIPANT: No. Just New York state.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I got Denver.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I say again — I mean, it’s just very moving to me. Mike, you said that within just a short period of time after floodwaters stopped rising that there 400 people in this neighborhood helping complete strangers — people putting feet on their faith, going out and making a difference, volunteering their time.
And my message, first and foremost, is thank you to everyone that’s come alongside these families all across Oklahoma. But my second message is there’s a lot more to be done. If you have the opportunity to donate your time or your resources to organizations that are supporting these families, we encourage you to do it.
Violent weather like we’ve seen pass through Oklahoma and and throughout the Heartland has an enormous cost on families, on residences, on businesses, on farmers, and ranchers. And I just encourage everyone in Oklahoma to continue to do what you’ve been doing — and that is come alongside your neighbors and friends.
And lastly, I would just say, Governor, and all of the leaders who are here: Karen and I will leave here very inspired. To see the smiles on faces of people whose homes have been decimated by flooding speaks about the character of this state, the strength of this state, and it also speaks about the way this community and, really, this family of Oklahomans comes together in most difficult times.
I think Mike actually said it to me a minute ago, he said, “You know, the worst of times bring out the best in people.” And so Karen and I are going to leave here inspired.
And just, I want to assure all of you that we’re going to continue to be here and continue to provide the resources and the support until Oklahoma and these communities come all the way back.
And I want to promise you also — these communities in Oklahoma and all across the country: You’re also in the prayers of people all across this country who are inspired by your example, by your resilience, and that you’ll continue to be in our prayers. We thank you for the inspiration and we’re with you.
So God bless you all. Thank you. Questions?
Q Mr. Vice President, in your impression — I know you guys have been keeping an eye on this — but your impression so far of kind of what you’ve seen out here in the Town and Country neighborhood?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s just remarkable to see the water levels and the speed with which they came up. I heard from some residents here that they had less than three hours’ notice. We’re thankful that because of the swift work of first responders and state and local officials, that people had notification to get out of harm’s way.
But it’s really dramatic. And, you know, when I was Governor of Indiana, we had flooding in our state, in my hometown — flash flooding. And I think you can see here the level of devastation that’s associated with it — the loss of personal effects, potential for loss of life. But to be here, to be among people that have endured this and are now emptying out their homes, all of their earthly possessions, but still have the strength, the resilience, the smiles on their faces, it’s — Oklahoma is inspiring the nation.
Q I had a question for FEMA, if you could answer this. Some of these residents don’t want to come back. They’re asking: Is there a way for the government to buy back my house from me? What are their options if they want to leave?
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: Well, I think once we get an assessment of what kind of damage is here, all of those programs will follow individual systems. So, it’s still early in the process. We’ll work with the local, the county, the state to make sure we do the most we can do under the disaster assistance. But, again, early in the process. Right now, we want to make sure that people register, sign up so they can get immediate assistance for, again, temporary housing or something that they need today. We’ll work on the long-term as we work through the recovery.
Q How complicated is that some of these people don’t have flood insurance even though they live in a flood plain?
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR GAYNOR: So, again, you know, we ask everyone to get flood insurance. It’s one of the best defenses that you can have. Right now — we can talk about that later; probably raise the flood insurance adoption in neighborhoods across the country. But today, it’s about these people in these neighborhoods and in neighborhoods like this across Oklahoma that are flooded. We want to get them registered. We want to put resources in their hands today.
Q I know this emergency declaration was for three counties. Are you guys looking around at some of the other counties that are not here that are also impacted as well?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I can tell you, we’re working very closely with the state to continue the assessment of damages. And I know that we’ll continue to respond just as swiftly. And at the Governor Stitt’s leadership and the support of this great delegation, I think it’s a real testament to the Governor’s administration to have made the application, the evaluations as quickly as possible and that’s an ongoing process.
We’re just going to make sure the people of Oklahoma and, frankly, people all across the Heartland that have been impacted by these storms over the last month and a half have access to the resources the American people make available at times just like this.
Q Mr. Vice President, what message are you going to take back for President Trump?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I will take back to President Trump that the need here is real, that the action that he took this weekend was more than warranted. But I’ll also take back to the President the resilience and the strength and the optimism and the generosity that I saw here today.
The President and I talked this afternoon after I left the food bank. And he wanted me to convey his great respect and gratitude to the Governor and to all of the first responders, the local leadership here. And I know, when I share all of that with him, he’ll be just as inspired as I am, and — but not surprised. Oklahoma is a strong state with a proud heritage. This has been a rough month in this state, but the people of Oklahoma, just like they always have, have stepped up and responded.
Q Mr. Vice President, did you talk to the President about how his foreign trip and his State Visit was going? Do you have any thoughts on that trip right now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I did. He was headed out to tonight’s event, I think, with Prince Charles. And I think he was very pleased with the progress of his visit to the U.K. He is looking very much forward to being in France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. But I think the warm welcome by Her Majesty and the Royal Family and people of Great Britain has meant a great deal to him.
Q You’ve been a Governor, a Congressman, and now you’re Vice President. Does going to sites like this get any easier or this is worst part of the job, would you say?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what I will tell you is that I think it’s a very important part of the job. My hometown faced a flood, about 10 years ago, of a magnitude that destroyed 10,000 homes. But to be out among people is to understand the extent of the loss and the challenges that people face.
And that’s why the President wanted me to be here. He wanted me to be out on the scene not just to report back to him, but hopefully to convey a message of gratitude to the local leadership, state leadership, and first responders, but also to let people know it’s going to be a long way back. I mean, there is a — there is something about violent weather and something especially about flooding that just takes a long time to come back.
And these families have a long road in front of them, but I want them to know that federal support is going to be there as they put their homes and their lives back together. I know the state is going to be there for them every step of the way. But probably most important is just knowing that neighbors and friends, long after the cameras leave, are going to understand this a long road back but we stay in it together. We’ll build these communities back bigger and better than ever before.
Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.