Bush Tours S. Carolina Storm Wreckage, Defends Federal Emergency Aid Efforts
Standing before television cameras and with a school bus crushed by a storm-tossed pine tree behind him, President Bush on Friday defended the efforts of the federal government in helping South Carolina rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Hugo.
One week after the storm’s 135-m.p.h. winds churned through the state, the President viewed the results during an 80-minute tour of this small city set in forests of pines 20 miles northwest of Charleston. He also took a 20-minute helicopter ride to survey downtown Charleston and the Carolina coastline.
On a predawn flight here from Washington, the President signed a bill intended to speed $1.1 billion in emergency federal assistance to the hurricane’s victims in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, North Carolina and South Carolina. South Carolina will get $200 million of that.
Local, state and federal officials have begun to quarrel over whether Washington has been doing all it can to speed reconstruction efforts and bring immediate relief to the most desperate victims: the 60,000 who South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. told Bush are still homeless, the 550,000 people who have had to flee their damaged homes for other shelter and the 270,000 whose livelihoods were wrecked by the storm.
On Thursday, during Senate debate on the emergency aid measure, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) complained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency officials dealing with the disaster are “the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses I’ve ever worked with.”
And Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, saying that federal officials failed to show enough “zeal or urgency,” criticized as a “disgrace” the agency’s decision to open only two disaster aid offices in the Charleston area. When he requested emergency power generators, he said, he was told that first he must complete the proper forms.
Hollings was invited to join Bush on the trip from Washington, but he refused, the White House said. Riley greeted Bush at the Charleston Air Force Base but said later that he was not invited on the local tour.
White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the number of disaster assistance centers in the state would be immediately increased to nine from five, with four new centers opening in Charleston. He said the Justice Department would make $1.1 million available to help pay police overtime and that the Commerce Department would offer $5 million for short-term jobs cleaning up storm debris.
On his way to South Carolina, Bush also offered personal support. He wrote a personal check for $1,000 to the South Carolina Red Cross, according to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who accompanied the President aboard Air Force One.
After riding down North Main Street, spotted with piles of debris and buildings showing gaping holes in roofs and walls, the President told reporters: “I can understand the frustrations of one or two voices, because they’ve been up all night.
“I’m satisfied the federal government has moved, and moved expeditiously,” Bush said, while stating that he would wait to determine whether greater federal assistance is needed.
In Summerville, Bush saw disaster scenes typical of those throughout state, the governor told the President. The pencil-straight pines were snapped like toothpicks. Warehouse roofs were missing. Wires dangled from utility poles. Mangled billboards were everywhere. A house trailer was sheared in two; others bore deep gashes from fallen trees. A steeple sat in the yard of an old Victorian church.
‘Everywhere You Go’
“From Charleston to the North Carolina line, you will see that or worse, everywhere you go,” Campbell said.
The President, wearing gray slacks, a blue shirt and a blue Air Force jacket bearing his name and the presidential seal, showed little expression as he caught sight of the school bus, its roof caved in and its windows shattered, in front of the Dorchester County Services Building.
“This town is known for its pines and flowers,” said Berlin G. Myers, who has been the mayor of Summerville for 19 years. “It will never be the same again.”
Still, he told Bush, “It looks good today. We’re on the up path. We’ve lost but we’re not losers. We’re winners.”
The President made a second stop, at a vacant house across the street from the home of Dennis and Diane Turocy. The roof of the vacant house had been caved in by two pine trees at least 50 feet in length. There was a “For Sale” sign in the yard.
“That was there before the storm, but I think it’s going to be ‘as is,’ now,” Turocy said.