BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, it is difficult to find words adequate enough to express the emotions of so many Americans, all across the country, as we continue to learn more about the utter devastation of the Gulf Coast region by Hurricane Katrina.
Hundreds of lives have been lost. Thousands more have been ripped apart, as Gulf Coast residents have lost their homes, savings, or possessions. A great American city, New Orleans, has been reduced to a ghost town. In the months ahead we will have much rebuilding to do--although there is no doubt in my mind that the gulf coast will be rebuilt, and rebuilt stronger than ever before.
We have already made great progress towards assisting the Gulf region here in the Senate. In the last several days we have passed over $62 billion in emergency relief. These funds are flowing to the people who most need help as we speak.
The majority leader is working to clear a measure that would accelerate billions of dollars of payments to states under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, program. The House passed it by voice vote last week, and we ought to do the same.
This kind of important action is by no means found only in the United States Congress. In this time of crisis, it has been inspiring to see so many millions of Americans moving quickly to help in their fellow Americans' hour of need.
Individual citizens are making a difference. I would like to share with my colleagues an inspiring story about a group of officers from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Twenty-three officers, most of whom did not know each other when they set out, took 12 boats to New Orleans and scoured the flooded neighborhoods to rescue over 200 people.
The men who volunteered for this mission came from all over Kentucky--towns like Somerset, Paris, Mount Vernon, and Pippa Passes. They spent 3 days in New Orleans, searching flooded houses, rescuing survivors, and bringing food and water to many.
Led by Captain Clark Boggs of Philpot and Captain Frank Floyd of Bedford, these men risked their health and safety for those they did not know. On the first day, they heard gunshots ring out near them. The toxic water they steered their boat through was a breeding ground for who knows how many diseases. Some of the men still bear scars and rashes from their mission.
But they returned to Kentucky with happier mementoes as well--Mardi Gras beads, given as tokens of thanks by New Orleans residents grateful that they had been rescued. When they spent their nights at a local church, or took refuge in a school, appreciative locals brought them hot plates of Cajun food. Most importantly, they will never forget the looks of relief on the faces of the people they rescued, people who thought they had been forgotten.
Let me also speak about a group of Kentucky doctors and nurses who flew down to the vicinity of New Orleans to provide emergency medical services. When they arrived, they found two gymnasiums full of people requiring medical attention. They assisted in setting up an emergency shelter that has to date treated over 7,000 patients.
One of the nurses, Addia Wuchner of Florence, KY, is also a state representative. She spent seven days helping the people of New Orleans and told my staff about her experiences there.
One of the hardest parts of her job was to tell the people she was treating, who had not been watching the news and had no idea of the devastation to New Orleans, that their homes were most likely flooded and unsalvageable. She also had the much more pleasant opportunity to reunite a grandfather and a granddaughter.
St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Edgewood, KY, donated the medical supplies that the team brought with them. And St. Elizabeth Medical Center is holding several fundraising drives and collecting employee donations, to continue to aid the people of the Gulf Coast region. The group's airfare was paid for by a local Kentucky businessman named Bill Butler, who graciously stepped in when the medical team was unsure whether they would be able to afford to fly down to help.
Let me share another story. Once upon a time, before Katrina, Charity Hospital in New Orleans helped the Pikeville Medical Center, in Pikeville, KY, set up a drug detoxification program. So when New Orleans needed help, the Pikeville Medical Center responded. A nurse named Cheryl Hickman rounded up other volunteers willing to travel down to the Gulf Coast area, and within hours a team of nurses and EMS personnel were on the road, driving ambulances stocked full of medical supplies.
Stories like these, stories of generosity and charity, are so numerous in Kentucky that I could tell you many more. Churches, rotary clubs, and charitable organizations throughout the Commonwealth have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even two little girls in my hometown of Louisville, KY, 12-year-old Briana O'Holleran and 11-year-old Amy Williams, raised $60 by setting up a lemonade stand.
Kentucky employers are also making a difference. Humana Inc., a health care company based in Louisville, KY, has donated $1 million to relief efforts--half of that to the Red Cross, and half to local relief agencies in the Gulf Coast who are able to use the money for food, clean water and other supplies and get it to the people who most need it.
UPS, a major employer in Louisville, has donated $1.25 million to several different agencies. Also, since they are of course a shipping company, they have provided transportation services for relief agencies, and have hauled bottled water into Mississippi for evacuees.
General Electric, which has its appliances division based in Louisville, has donated $6 million to the Red Cross, and their employees have raised another $1 million which will be matched by the company. They are also working to donate $10 million worth of generators and equipment to aid relief workers.
And I am sure that all of my colleagues could stand up and tell us of similar stories from their states. Kentucky is not unique when it comes to the outpouring of such goodwill. By sharing these stories, I hope I have reminded my colleagues that the compassion of ordinary, everyday Americans is a stronger force than the winds of any hurricane.
So, Mr. President, as we continue our vital work here in the Senate to get the Gulf Coast region back up on its feet again, I hope we will be guided by the giving spirit of the Kentuckians I have mentioned. Just as they, and so many others, are working tirelessly to restore hope and mend broken lives, so should we.