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“On the Ground Before the Raindrops Started Falling”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on the ongoing efforts in response to the severe weather and flooding in Tennessee and across the Southeast.

This morning, President Obama was briefed by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan on the ongoing efforts in response to the severe weather and flooding in Tennessee and across the Southeast. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen characterized the weather events in a press call this afternoon, “The storm which occurred really Saturday and Sunday was unprecedented. It was by any measure, on both days, record-setting amounts of rain.”

The President signed a disaster declaration in Alabama on May 3 and another in Tennessee on May 4, opening affected areas up for Federal funding assistance. For those affected by the recent floods, assistance may be available by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or by visiting You can also access this information by visiting from your mobile device.

Despite simultaneous response efforts in the wake of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast, FEMA representatives are on the ground working directly with state and local officials. Earlier this week FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate visited Nashville, where he met with Governor Bredesen and local officials to discuss federal support for the response. This afternoon Governor Bredesen described the federal response:

I have to say that FEMA and the White House have been absolutely supportive. Very quickly FEMA was on the ground here before the raindrops started falling…The President was on the phone to me before the sun came up practically on Monday morning. Slightly after it came up, other people from the White House had called and checked in with us and helped…I’ve never seen this kind of a response to things that have happened. We’ve had our share of tornadoes and those kinds of things… I’m very, very pleased with the response we’ve gotten from the administration.

At the request of the President, Administrator Fugate returned to travel throughout Tennessee today and tomorrow to survey the damage and receive on the ground briefings on the response effort. Administrator Fugate explained that the response and recovery work is a team effort between federal, state, and local agencies as well as with nongovernment volunteer partners such as the Red Cross.

Joe Becker, the Senior Vice President for Disaster Relief, gave a sense of how the Red Cross is providing comforts to those affected and reiterated the need for partnerships in the response:

I can tell you from the Red Cross perspective, we have volunteers here from 37 states who have fanned out across the state of Tennessee and are still meeting those immediate emergency needs in many places – shelter, food, supplies that people need to clean up and just immediate comfort items.
But let’s be clear here. This is going to be a long slog. This is going to be for weeks and weeks with various communities in different states. It’s going to take a team effort of government, of nongovernment, and of people helping people.

You can lend a hand to those affected by flooding and tornados in Tennessee and across the region by donating to the Red Cross at or texting “RedCross” to 90999 and a $10 donation will be added to your bill.

Robert Gibbs is White House Press Secretary