Vice President Joe Biden gets a firsthand look at destruction from floods
October 3, 2013
Vice President Joe Biden promised Weld County flood victims that help is available and he told them Monday to keep the faith during these times of loss.
Speaking in front of about 150 elected officials and flood victims at the disaster recovery center at Greeley's Island Grove Regional Park on Monday, Biden said that when the cameras go away, agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross will still be there to help until they make it right for the victims.
"I wish I were not here under these circumstances," Biden said. "Quite frankly, I expected to see it worse than I have. In a matter of slightly over a week, the progress that's been made thus far is pretty remarkable. When the cameras leave, the help is going to remain. As my grandfather would say, 'Keep the faith.' I promise you. We're not going away. The state, the local and federal government is not leaving. We are going to meet the needs as a consequence of this disaster."
Biden, making his second appearance in Greeley in less than a year and his third since 2008, took a helicopter tour around the devastated areas throughout Colorado. Standing behind him during his nine-minute speech in Greeley were U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Mike Coffman, R-Colo., along with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and FEMA director Craig Fugate.
"We were in the air about an hour touring the devastation and it is devastation," Biden said. "The stories that I've heard in here and from the gentlemen standing behind me about the sacrifices individuals made, about the sense of community, about how people pulled together is pretty amazing, but not at all surprising. We're going to keep working with the governor on long-term strategy to rebuild to get people back into their homes."
Alejandro Sanchez, 10, and his family lost their home at the Eastwood Village mobile home park in Evans. He said listening to Biden made him feel like help was on the way.
"I'm so happy that they're giving us money to buy a trailer. We need money for a new house or trailer so we can live in," Alejandro said. "I like what he said about helping us. I lost the stuff that I love."
Biden said he's been at the scene of a lot of disasters through his political career, and the difference with FEMA today as opposed to five, six, seven years ago is that victims can walk into the disaster recovery center and experience one-stop shopping.
"That group of people inside and at the other centers around this state are looking to find an answer for you," Biden aid. "They're not giving you a telephone number. They're not saying, 'If you need this help call this number.' They're saying, 'Walk three chairs down at end of the table and we'll get this done for you.' "
Biden said when President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration to Weld County, it provided additional assistance for cleaning up debris, helping people with their housing costs and providing technical assistance to help with search and rescue.
"FEMA is able to provide temporary housing, home repair that is not covered by your insurance, medical expenses, transportation needs, moving and storage and other support for those directly impacted," Biden said.
Ana Temu, a volunteer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition whose mother lost her home in Longmont, said she's seen so many people get turned away from FEMA because they don't have a Social Security number.
"They work so hard over the years, they pay taxes, they go to work, and just because they don't have a nine-digit number they're not able to benefit from federal assistance even though this is a human issue and crisis," Temu said. "I take what (Biden) says at face value. Until I see action, then I'll believe."
Biden said there is nothing worse than losing everything and having to sift through alphabet agencies. He told a personal story of his house being struck by lightning, and recalled the sense of loss was overwhelming when you lose your home.
"One of the things I found most fascinating and devastating in the helicopter ride is there are so many small communities that are literally isolated, isolated on one side of a stream or one side of a raging river with no physical possibilities of crossing that stream where it is raging right now," Biden said. "Those folks can't even make it across onto a road. The number of highways that have been washed away completely … there is the ability where money is available to help the federal highway system as well as the local highway system."
Biden said, to date, $35 million has been approved for repair and reconstruction of roads and bridges.
"That's obviously not going to be enough," the vice president said.
Colorado Department of Transportation officials said last week it will take as much as $500 million to help repair the damage from the floods. Hickenlooper also asked Congress to raise the cap to $500 million for federal assistance under the U.S. Federal Highways Administration Emergency Relief Program.
Gardner, who represents Weld County in the 4th Congressional District, said one thing that frustrated him about the crisis was that a lot of people didn't know the severity of it.
"I think a lot of people thought flash floods and they've seen it before, but they didn't realize that this actually damaged or destroyed up to 19,000 homes. Heck, in Evans alone 400 homes. In Milliken, 200 homes. The damage that these communities have sustained needs to be seen and witnessed, and I'm glad the vice president is here to see that because obviously a lot of the resources behind it are state and federal resources."
Gardner said it was important to the victims having Biden in Greeley.
"I think it shares that their plight is known, that the government and the people behind the resources being made available have seen it and they've heard the plea for help and are answering," Gardner said.
Biden said he met with county commissioners about the issue of broken bridges and said help is coming.
Evans Mayor Lyle Achziger said it meant a lot to have the White House reach out and to let the people who lost their homes know that the government is here to take care of them and to help them out.
"The resources that we've seen from people all over the United States clear up to the White House, that's how widespread this generosity and this interest and this compassion is," Achziger said. "I was very pleased with what he had to say. I think this was great that he came out and he assured them that help is going to be there. We heard him promise that help is going to be there. I think that will go a long way toward enhancing the positive attitudes that these people already have."
Greeley Mayor Tom Norton said he appreciated Biden being in Greeley.
"I appreciate the fact that we're getting a little national attention," Norton said. "It will help grease the skids in terms of getting the money where it needs to be. Getting the recognition for those people (in Evans) that we are treating their sewage and now they can flush their toilets. Now get the money here where we can get those things put back to together."
Biden wanted the flood victims to know that any talk of a government shutdown because of gridlock in Congress will probably scare "the living devil out of you."
"The truth of the matter is there is reason to be scared, but not in terms of disaster relief," Biden said. "The federal assistance that we're providing, none of it is going to be impacted even if there is a government shutdown."