Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- TN storm devastation

Posted on May 18, 2011

Mr. President, I have just returned from visiting eastern Tennessee where there were devastating tornadoes last week.  The President, at the request of our entire congressional delegation, has declared four of our counties -- Washington, Greene, Hamilton, and Bradley -- as disaster areas, and we thank him for his prompt attention to that. 

I visited today northern Hamilton County, just north of Chattanooga, north of where the new Volkswagen plant will be.  In Tennessee last week 36 men and women lost their lives as a result of these storms.  The area I visited is one of the two areas most affected, the other being Washington and Greene Counties, where our Governor was today. 

Someone asked me following my visit if anything about it shocked me.  I said:  It always shocks me when I see the consequences of a devastating flood or especially a massive tornado.  This one had winds of nearly 200 miles an hour.  Wherever you stand, you try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who might have been there when the tornado came through and try to imagine what it would be like.  You see this funnel coming and know it will only interfere with your life for about 20 or 30 seconds; but after that, all will be devastating. There is no way you cannot be shocked by it, and there is no way I can put myself in the shoes of those who were there. 

I saw one man who was there, Arthur Bates, 70 years old, and I saw his house which was completely demolished.  His upright piano was upside-down.  He told me he had killed a calf and left to take some meat to the preacher.  He had been gone for about 5 minutes when the tornado hit his house.

Not so lucky was another family not very far away.  All the members of that family were killed except for an 8-year-old boy who was found in a tree and survived. 

Not far away, several families had signs that said:  The Lord was with us.  Surely, it had to seem to them providential that there could be such devastation almost in their front yards and yet their homes would be safe. 

Ironically, today, as I went from Nashville to Chattanooga, I was reading about a commemoration of the floods that hit Tennessee almost exactly 1 year ago -- on May 2, 2010.  These were floods that affected counties from Nashville to Memphis.  In Nashville alone there was $2 billion worth of damage.  People are still recovering from that flood a year later.  Businesses have closed in some cases, but most have opened.  The Grand Ole Opry was shut, but it was opened again.  The Opryland Hotel was open again.  Nashville is thriving again, and people are coming back to Nashville.  But the commemoration today was for the large number of families in Tennessee who are hurting and some who are still in recovery. 

Then, if that weren't enough, in the western part of our State, along the Mississippi River, we have reports that the water is rising and will rise to levels that will be higher than at any time since the flood of 1937.  People are already preparing shelters.  Tributaries in the Mississippi are already rising. 

On Friday I will be going to Memphis to meet with the Army Corps of Engineers and local officials to make sure we are doing all we can.  None of us in the Federal Government believe we can make anyone whole after a disaster like this, but we can help.  As I said to those I saw today in Chattanooga, north of Chattanooga, there is a telephone number to call -- 211 -- which is a local number for help.  There is a FEMA number to call: 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).  We found in the flooding of a year ago from Nashville to Memphis that was a big help to many Tennesseans.  I hope the same will be true in east Tennessee and across our State today. 

A year ago Tennesseans distinguished themselves by not looting and complaining but by cleaning up and helping one another.  I saw that again today in Hamilton County.  The sheriff told me within a few hours after the devastation there were 500 or so men with chainsaws out clearing debris and trees from the roads and from the yards helping one another. 

So, Mr. President, I speak today on behalf of all Members of the Senate in expressing to those in Tennessee our concern and our willingness to continue to do all we can to help.