Presidential Radio Address - 14 November 1998
Today I would like to talk about the hurricane that struck Central America 2 weeks ago and what we in the United States are doing to help. I'm joined by Tipper Gore, who will describe her trip leading our delegation to the region.
As Hurricane Mitch swept across the Caribbean, we were spared the brunt of the storm. But our neighbors in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala were not so lucky. We know the terrible death toll in those nations, more than 10,000 lives so far. But that figure only begins to convey the devastation. Hundreds of thousands are homeless. Mudslides and collapsed bridges have made it difficult to send help. In huge areas people have still almost no food and water. Roads, farms, schools, hospitals, all have been destroyed.
Tipper Gore led our Presidential mission to the region, and she just reported to me on the conditions there. I'd like to ask her now to tell what she saw.
Tipper Gore. Thank you, Mr. President.
In Honduras, we visited a neighborhood devastated by the storm. We joined the effort to clean up a school that will become a medical facility. That night I slept in a tent outside a shelter with homeless families, where I met a woman who was 6 months pregnant, a grandmother who was caring for four of her grandchildren, and a man who was alone and blind. They had all lost everything. They are now living together in one room, sleeping on mats.
In Nicaragua, I visited a refugee site for more than 1,000 men, women, and children whose homes along a riverbank are gone. The conditions are unimaginable. The Government has allocated a plot of land which is divided into parcels, one per family. Their shelter consists of sheets of plastic. Disease is rampant, and their biggest concerns right now are food, water, and medicine.
Yet everywhere, I was struck by the spirit of the people. They are not defeated. They're cleaning up, and they are rebuilding their lives. In Honduras, community leaders are working to help those most in need to get supplies to the outlying areas. In the makeshift shelters in Managua, many people were measuring foundations for new walls they will build when the materials are available.
You can see that this disaster has destroyed their homes but not their spirits. They will survive, and we will stand with them as they do so.
The President. Thanks, Tipper. Thank you for the trip and for your recommendations for what the United States should do next.
Next Monday the First Lady will also visit the region. We want to do everything we can to help, now and over the long run. To quickly address the catastrophe, I ordered $80 million in emergency aid. Over 1,300 American troops are assisting with relief efforts, providing food, water, and medicine. Engineers are rebuilding roads. Helicopters and planes are delivering vital supplies, 1.3 million tons to date. And more help is on the way.
In the wake of Mrs. Gore's trip, I am announcing today that we will offer $45 million in additional defense goods and services to provide the resources our troops need to continue their critical work toward recovery.
I've also asked Secretary of the Treasury Bob Rubin to find the best way to provide debt relief and emergency financial aid from the United States and the international community. We've already encouraged international institutions to provide more than $500 million in near-term financial aid, and we're working with them to secure sufficient money for reconstruction.
Finally, we intend to extend our stay of deportation through the holidays for citizens of the affected countries living in the United States, while examining on an urgent basis recommendations for further relief, consistent with the recommendation Mrs. Gore made to me.
A storm shows no respect for boundaries, and we should respond the same way. Many American citizens have relatives in Central America; our nations are related, too. They are our friends and our neighbors. We are going to share the future together. America is at its best when lending a helping hand to friends in need. Central Americans have taken great strides in the last decade in ending conflicts and strengthening democracies. We must not, and we will not, let a hurricane drown these aspirations.
The United States will spare no aid to people of Central America, our fellow Americans, as we all strive to build a better world in a new century.
Thanks for listening.