Mr. President, I come here this afternoon to join my colleagues in offering my support, my sympathy, and certainly everything we can do from my home state of Washington to so many of our fellow Americans who are suffering so tragically from the outfall of Hurricane Katrina. I want them to know we will do everything we can from here to make sure we are there for them.
Mr. President, I have to say that over the past week, citizens from this end of the country to my end of the country on the West Coast have been glued to their television screens and really overwhelmed by the tremendous devastation and the unfathomable suffering of so many of our fellow Americans. The images have become almost too much to bear – watching families without food and without water, people who have been trapped on their roofs, and people searching for their loved ones.
People have come up to me everywhere I've gone in my state over the last week, and my office has been inundated with calls from Washington state residents who are really horrified at the conditions they have seen on TV. They are asking – rightfully – what can we do to help and how can we be there for our citizens. They are reaching into their pockets and doing everything they can, and that truly has been heartwarming to see.
But they are also asking – how could this have happened? Mr. President I have to say that people in my home state are upset and with good reason. Our government failed in its initial response. We now have to see that we succeed in this ongoing recovery and that certainly is my focus right now.
There is going to be a lot of time for hard questions and accountability, but I think today we need to focus on meeting the tremendous needs that rescue workers, and our Guard, and our police forces are meeting on the ground.
We also need to recognize that the recovery area is now no longer just limited to the Gulf Coast. As Americans have opened their hearts and their homes, they've opened their communities, and their stadiums, and their hospitals and their homes in towns and cities from coast to coast that need has spread across the country.
In my home state of Washington, we're expecting to welcome shortly 2,000 evacuees. Nearly 200 of them are going to arrive by this Thursday, and we need to make sure we are doing everything and being prepared to meet their needs as they come to our state.
Right now, we have to ensure that the evacuees have the bare essentials - that they have food, and they have clothing, and they have shelter. But we also have to make sure we are preparing for the long term.
For most children in this country, as we all know, this week marks a very exciting time – the beginning of the school year – a time when they head off to meet their new teachers and reconnect with old friends and make new ones. For all of the children who have been displaced from their homes and their school districts by the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the beginning of the school year is really the least of their worries. But we will need to come together as a country to help these schools across the nation that are taking in these students from Gulf Coast.
I just heard on television that there will be probably 200,000 or more of these young students. We've got to do everything we can to absorb the cost and do everything we can to help the transition for these children and families.
We also need to pay special attention to funding for support for homeless and foster children and ensure that the most vulnerable among us have the support they need to succeed and build brighter futures again.
Mr. President, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many different sectors of our transportation system are also stepping up to the plate to deliver critical service. Because this region's infrastructure is so devastated, we need to immediately explore alternatives to moving people and freight throughout the region. It's going to take time to get our transportation infrastructure back to where it was – but we need to really start concentrating on that and getting systems put in place now as well.
Mr. President, rest assured, I will be asking very hard questions in the days to come about what went wrong, and what we need to do to ensure that Americans never endure such preventable suffering ever again. All of those questions will be explored in detail, but right now I'm going to continue to make sure that we are providing the immediate support that our families and our communities need. And once again, Mr. President, I just want to say my thoughts and my prayers go out to everyone who has been touched by this disaster.