Mr. President, so many states have been devastated this hurricane season. My own home state of North Carolina has been ravaged by the effects of not one but four hurricanes in the last few weeks. Most recently, Western North Carolina suffered extensive damage caused by the torrential wind and rain of Hurricane Ivan. Initial estimates from the storm's destruction in Buncombe County alone are already topping 100 million dollars. Sadly, this same county had already projected that exact amount in damages following Hurricane Frances. Counties in Western North Carolina had barely begun to recover from the flooding of Frances before Ivan roared through town late last week.
The death toll from the storm so far is ten people. In the town of Henderson, a man and his wife were sleeping soundly when a huge tree crashed into their bedroom. The husband was pinned beneath the fallen tree, which ultimately took his life as his home had to be stabilized before the tree could be removed.
In the Peeks Creek community in southern Macon County, a landslide sent homes crashing against each other killing at least four people; including an unborn child whose mother was forced to have a leg amputated and remains in critical condition.
Houses have literally been washed away, and some left standing have been split in two by fallen trees. Main roads and neighborhood streets have been shut down from landslides and pavement giving way. Well over 200,000 residents were left without power over the weekend. Needless to say, it will take time before Western North Carolina can return to a sense of normalcy.
I have been down to the devastated areas twice over the past two weeks. While my heart broke at the sight of destroyed homes and washed out roadways, my hopes were buoyed by the goodness of neighbor helping neighbor. It was an image played out all over the towns I visited. Local officials and First Responders, some from as far as Raleigh and Charlotte, have done—and continue to do—a phenomenal job in the midst of challenging circumstances.
I think of the heroic efforts of families like Aileen and Glenn Holland. They are no strangers to offering aide after a natural disaster. Long time volunteers through the North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Relief, they have traveled all over the United States. But last weekend, they didn't have to travel anywhere. The destruction came right to their front door. 15 homes were annihilated in Macon County, but the Holland's was left standing. When they heard the screams of neighbors, Aileen and Glenn began taking people in. They even found a toddler covered in mud crying from fear. The Hollands remained in their home, providing shelter for friends and family until fellow volunteers from the Baptist Men Disaster Relief arrived on the scene.
I also applaud the efforts of local churches, non-profits, and groups like the Red Cross for the helping hands they're extending all over Western North Carolina. I had the chance to stop in and thank the volunteers at the Red Cross Shelter in Henderson County. I was touched to see the families finding refuge and reassurance there.
These are the memories I will keep with me as I think back on the far-reaching effects from this hurricane season. Yes, there is destruction. Yes, there is great pain. But I find encouragement in the selfless hearts of North Carolinians who are going to great lengths to help those struggling through the wreckage left behind.
It is my desire that we, too, can add to that goodwill and deliver the financial aid these areas need to get back on their feet. Fifteen Western North Carolina counties have been declared federal disaster areas, including Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Macon. This designation means that homeowners and businesses are eligible for assistance in the form of loans or grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Small Business Administration. There is a 60 million dollar request for North Carolina included in the President's emergency budget. We're obviously going to need much more. I would encourage Congress to expedite this aide to those who need it most.
I can only hope the end of this devastating hurricane season comes quickly! The autumn season makes Western North Carolina one of the most beautiful places on earth—and the good folks from the mountains are well suited to give some southern hospitality to visitors from around the country. It is important that we get the word out that this magnificent part of the country is open for business during its prime tourism season. My thoughts and my prayers are with every person touched by these hurricanes, not only in North Carolina but throughout the Southeast and East Coast. May God bless each and every one of them.