President Clinton toured the surging floodwaters of the Potomac River by helicopter Monday, pledging “quick action to help” the Atlantic Coast areas clobbered by Hurricane Fran.
The president flew 20 miles along the muddy, brown river separating Washington from Maryland and Virginia, above a waterlogged park where he sometimes jogs and over the flooded streets of the Old Town district of Alexandria, Va.
The 27-minute tour also took Clinton over the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and towpath, which was heavily damaged in storms last winter and had just been repaired. The area was hard hit anew.
“Much of that work will now have to be done again because it’s been undone by the flooding,” the president said. “But our people have always been resilient in the face of disaster, and we know that they will be resilient again.”
Clinton said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will survey the damage from storms, high winds and flooding “until we’re sure that the needs of all the affected populations are met in Virginia and North Carolina, and in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.”
Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House after his tour, the president said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people who have suffered losses along our Eastern states because of the effects of Hurricane Fran. Lives have been lost, homes and businesses have been destroyed or badly damaged. For many of our people, the effects have been truly devastating.”
He said he was expanding his declaration of major disaster areas to include more counties in Virginia - opening the way to federal assistance and low-interest loans.
North Carolina was the hardest-hit state. More than 4,000 people have requested federal help in the state and 24 counties have been declared eligible for individual assistance programs.
“In disasters such as this, it takes all of us coming together to help our fellow citizens get back on their feet,” the president said.
The floods were spawned by Hurricane Fran, which roared through the region on Friday after clobbering coastal North Carolina.
The Potomac crested in Washington early Monday at 13.7 feet, nearly 7 feet above flood stage. The river flooded from West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle into downtown Washington, drowning many areas for the second time this year. Water had started to recede through the area when Clinton took his tour.
Commuter trains that run close to the river were canceled this morning, and Washington traffic was snarled because of flooded streets.
Clinton’s tour took him over Hains Point, a grassy park jutting out into the Potomac. At the tip of the park, a large sculpture, called the Awakening, depicts the face, arm, hand and leg of a man struggling up from the Earth. The sculpture was nearly covered by water.