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TRAGEDY IN OKLAHOMA
Mr. BLUNT. Madam President, I want to talk about the tragedy this week in Oklahoma. This is the 2-year anniversary of the Joplin tornado we had 90 miles from my home, a district that I represented for a long time before I came to the Senate and still get to represent now as part of our State. But I want to be sure we take time yet again today to let people in Oklahoma know that our thoughts are with them, our prayers are with them.
First responders are continuing to search and rescue. Their recovery efforts are happening. Words clearly cannot describe the loss these communities and the community particularly of Moore, OK, have had in the last few days. I know the Nation is praying for them. I am too--for the people who lost children at the local elementary schools. The thought of sending somebody to school in the morning and them not coming home that day is a tragedy that will affect people's lives forever. The friends who are lost, the family members who are lost will always be part of the ongoing impact that they have on that family and that community.
In Joplin, MO, 2 years ago we had 161 people die. The community has come back in incredible ways, but you never want to minimize in any way the loss of those 161 lives. Every one of them had a story to tell, just as every one of the people lost in Moore, OK, and in other places in Oklahoma in recent days has a story to tell.
It was a big storm. It affected people. Pretty quickly you figure out that while you regret the property you lost, the property you lost is not really all that important, but the lives that were lost are. In addition to the 161 people killed in Joplin, MO, on May 22, 2011, 7,000 homes were gone. I was there the next day or the day after. They were gone. It was like a nuclear blast. The pictures from Moore, OK, remind me of that. Five hundred businesses were gone.
I will say for the people in Joplin, they immediately began to think about Joplin tomorrow instead of Joplin yesterday. Two years later it is still a community dealing with loss, but it is a community that is building new schools and new businesses, and houses are under construction. I talked to someone just yesterday. Their family member was about to get into a house that Habitat helped them build.
One of the things I found out that I had never really thought about even though I had a lot of experience with storm loss--never anything like 7,000 homes at one time--the people who are the least likely to have insurance are the people who have their house paid for. In that group, they are the least likely, or the people who may have inherited the house from their parents, because there is no banker to tell them they have to have an insurance policy. Maybe it was just kind of a seamless moving back home or staying home and suddenly that house is gone.
By the way, this is something the Federal Government--really probably rightly--does not have a role in. If you do not have insurance, you made that choice not to have insurance. When we talk about Federal aid, we are almost always talking about cleaning up the streets, the water systems, the power facilities, getting the community back in order. There are some programs for public buildings that are available. It is not that we are going to go in and help you rebuild your house if you chose not to have insurance. That is not what happens.
But volunteers immediately show up. The first volunteers are your neighbors. The first responders are your neighbors. It happened this week in Oklahoma. It happened 2 years ago in Joplin. As soon as people had brushed themselves off and found their own family members, they began to look up and down the street to see whom they could help, whom they could help dig out of rubble or whom they could help secure something they were concerned about. Those are the first responders.
Then your neighbors from not too far away--in fact, Oklahoma is right on the edge of our State. They are our neighbors. There were people from--public officials, fire and water and police from Joplin who were there within 12 hours, and they will be back when they are needed.
There is a lot to be done. The one thing I would advise people who want to know what they can personally do to help--there are places to send money, there are charities to help. They are helping. All those things are important and good. My personal advice if you want to help, if you can at all, find out before you go what it is you are going to be doing. The last thing communities in this kind of situation need is a lot of people wandering around, wondering what they can do to help. There are plenty of people wandering around already. But if you come through your church, your civic club, through some organization you have helped in the past, through Habitat for Humanity, through a group you have worked with before that does this--link up with them and go. That is probably the better thing to do.
There is a lot to be done. First responders, as I said, are your neighbors. By the way, they are also the last responders. The people still there 2 years later helping build a Habitat for Humanity house are probably at that point your neighbors. They are probably not Habitat for Humanity from 1,000 miles away. They are local people who have finally found another family who needs help, and they are helping them.
This disaster, by all recent standards, deserves Federal assistance. FEMA is there, but beyond that, the Federal assistance that we give when a disaster is too big for a community to handle on its own and too big for the community and the State they are in to handle on their own, that is where the Federal Government should step in and does and will.
There are people all over the country who want to help, but they also are going to be helping as taxpayers. It appears that the resources to do that are in the current pipeline. As I said, FEMA is there. We are going to be there, I am sure, working in this body with our colleagues, Senator Coburn and Senator Inhofe, to do our best to reach out to our fellow Americans who have a real tragedy, and that is a tragedy where all the American people can step up and help by doing what we do when these disasters strike.
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