Clinton Tours Fla. Twister Damage
Feb. 25, 1998
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ President Clinton today toured an area in central Florida hard hit by devastating tornadoes, assessing the damage from the storms and planning to offer words of comfort _ and a promise of federal aid _ to victims.
After arriving at nearby Orlando International Airport, Clinton, who has already declared the region a disaster area, stepped from Air Force One and boarded a helicopter to fly over Osceola County to see the destruction left by a series of tornadoes that roared through the area on Monday.
The storms, the deadliest in Florida's recorded history with winds of up to 260 mph, killed at least 39 people and leveled scores of homes. Three people were still missing today.
Joining Clinton on the air and foot tour were Attorney General Janet Reno, Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Clinton was visiting a mobile home campground that was reduced to little more than a mass of twisted metal and shattered glass and lumber.
In all, Clinton has declared 34 Florida counties as disaster areas. Actually, White House aides said, the president had issued disaster declarations for most of the counties in January, after an earlier round of storms.
He merely extended the declarations, which make victims eligible for low-cost loans and some grants.
Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the damage from the tornadoes will be ``up in the millions,'' but they won't have a dollar estimate for federal aid until next week.
``It's kind of like a mini Hurricane Andrew in a lot of different places,'' Witt said, referring to the devastating 1992 storm.
Speaking on ABC's ``Good Morning America'' before departing, Witt said FEMA alone is looking at spending $250 million in California because of El Nino-related damage.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said President Clinton plans to announce a $3 million grant from the Labor Dept. for people in Florida who temporarily lose their jobs because of the tornado.
After the aerial tour, the president will walk through Ponderosa Park Campground, a mobile home park that was hit hard by the storm.
The president added the Florida stop to a previously scheduled trip to California for Democratic fund-raising events in the evening. He is to address a technology conference on Thursday and meet with California disaster relief officials.
While in the West, Clinton is going to Utah for a ski trip requested by daughter Chelsea, who turns 18 on Friday.
Chelsea let it be known that she would rather spend her 18th birthday on a ski outing instead of staying in California for Parents' Weekend at Stanford University, where she is a freshman.
``It was a family decision,'' said spokeswoman Marsha Berry. ``It's her birthday. I think they wanted to do what she wanted to do.''
The Clintons are expected to stay at a private residence in Park City, not far from Salt Lake City, site of the Winter Olympics in 2002.
Clinton has never skied as president and was not known to have skied as governor of Arkansas. He seriously injured his knee last March during a golf weekend in Florida, wound up on crutches for weeks and then underwent months of rehabilitation.
The president's knee is strong enough so that he could ski but it's not known if he will, spokesman Joe Lockhart said. Another aide suggested Clinton might just spend a quiet winter weekend and leave the skiing to his daughter.
His wife, Hillary, tried skiing in Switzerland earlier this month while attending a conference. She was ``pretty good,'' Berry said.