Vice President Mike Pence praised the resiliency, community and faith of Oklahomans Tuesday.
Arriving on Air Force 2, the vice president and Second Lady Karen Pence took time to pack disaster aid boxes at the Food Back of Eastern Oklahoma and visit with Sands Springs homeowners whose lives were upended by near-record flooding.
Pence was joined by Congressmen Markwayne Mullin and Kevin Hern, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, acting FEMA Director Peter Gaynor, Governor Kevin Stitt, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith, in addition to a motorcade of staff and security that blocked many city streets and highways.
Since May 1, more than 800 severe storm, tornado and flood incidents have ravaged Oklahoma.
“It has put an incredible burden on law enforcement, it has put an incredible burden on families, and yet Oklahoma has responded with compassion and strength,” Pence said. “Oklahoma has inspired the nation.”
Six Oklahomans died due to storms and flooding between May 1 and May 26.
“Our hearts grieve for the loss of life,” Pence said. “We send our condolences and our sympathies to the families of those six that were lost in the wake of these storms.”
In addition to the loss of lives, was the loss of livelihoods as FEMA expects to receive more than 4,000 claims from damaged homes and businesses.
Pence spoke to a handful of homeowners in Sand Springs who are easily on that list.
Homeowner Mike Luke purchased his home 22 years ago, and said he had never experienced anything like this year’s storms and flooding.
“We had three hours notice to evacuate. I got four suitcases and two boxes,” Luke said.
Luke is currently staying in an RV outside of his house.
Inside, he said, “It is a total loss.”
“Most of these homes, they really aught to be bulldozed because of structural problems,” Luke said. “But there is probably not money for that.”
Luke was happy to have the vice president come by and see what has happened to so many families in the area.
“I’m impressed,” Luke said, simply. “I don’t know if it will do any good, but it is nice of him to come out.”
Pence empathized with the heartbreak many Oklahomans are feeling, having gone through something similar as governor of Indiana.
“In the midst of that we are grateful,” Pence said.
“I want to say how grateful we are for all the members of the law enforcement community, all of the first responders that have been working 24/7 through all of the storms and challenges,” Pence said. “To first responders all across the state, including the National Guard, we say a heartfelt thanks for a job well done. You have saved lives.”
“President Trump asked me to be here and make sure that the people of Oklahoma and all the families that have been impacted know that we are with you, and we are going to stay with you until we rebuild these communities, bigger and better than ever before,” Pence said. “Our pledge to you mayor, our pledge to you Governor Stitt, is that we are going to be with you every step of the way.”
Stitt defended the vice president’s claim of support.
“The federal government, with the leadership of President Trump and Vice President Pence has been unbelievable,” Stitt said, adding that Trump and Pence both called him within days of the tornado that tour through El Reno. “They wanted to make sure we had everything we need here in Oklahoma.”
Acting FEMA Director Peter Gaynor said, “We understand that this is catastrophic, in this neighborhood and in neighborhoods like this around Oklahoma.”
“The president has authorized resources to help individual families like we met here today. FEMA is on the ground today. And the best thing you can do if you haven’t registered, is to register with FEMA,” Gaynor said.
So far FEMA has already given out $50,000 in disaster aid and is expected to give millions to the estimated 4,000 families and homeowners in need.
Assistance can include temporary shelter and coverage of uninsured property, “but the first thing you have to do is register,” Gaynor said.
Individuals impacted by storms can register for assistance by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).
“We want families to know, all across Oklahoma, that resources are available to help rebuild your home. Loans are available to help rebuild your businesses. And we are going to continue to provide support,” Pence said.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan similarly offered continued federal support.
“It is a true honor to be here and to see this whole community effort here in Tulsa responding to this disaster,” McAleenan said. “At the federal level, we are going to be here throughout this recovery. We are going to be here for you throughout the entire period.”
As of Tuesday, only Oklahoma, Tulsa and Muskogee Counties have received federal disaster recognition.
“We are working very closely with the state to continue the assessment of damages and I know that we will continue to respond just as swiftly to Governor Stitt’s leadership and the support of this great delegation,” Pence said. “It is a real testament to the Governor’s administration to have made the application and evaluations as quickly as possible, and that is an ongoing process.”
“There is something about violent weather and something especially about flooding that it just takes a long time to come back,” Pence said. “These families have a long road in front of them, but I want them to know that federal support is going to be there as they put their homes and their lives back together.”
“We’re just going to make sure the people of Oklahoma, and frankly people all across the heartland that have been impacted by these storms over the last month and a half, have access to the resources the American people make available for times just like this,” Pence said.
OKLAHOMA THE INSPIRATION
Vice President Pence said he and wife Karen would leave Oklahoma, inspired, and take that message with them back to President Trump.
“The violent weather that we have seen pass through Oklahoma and throughout the heartland has an enormous cost on families, on residences, on businesses, on farmers and ranchers,” Pence said.
“Karen and I will leave here very inspired,” Pence said. “To see the smiles on faces of people whose homes have been decimated by flooding, speaks about the character of this state, the strength of this state, and it also speaks about the way this community, and really this family of Oklahomans, comes together in the most difficult times.”
Quoting Sand Springs homeowner Mike Luke, Pence said, “The worst in times brings out the best in people.”
“To be here, to be among people who have endured this and are now emptying out their homes, all their earthly possessions, but still have the strength, the resilience, the smiles on their faces … Oklahoma is inspiring to me,” Pence said.
Pence said that when he returns to Washington D.C. he will brief the president on the situation in Oklahoma and the need for continued support.
Pence also said, “I know when I share all of that with him that he will be just as inspired as I am, but not surprised. Oklahoma is a strong state with a proud heritage. This has been a rough month in this state, but the people of Oklahoma, just like they always have, have stepped up and responded.”
“Thank you to everyone that has come alongside these families all across Oklahoma,” Pence said. “I encourage everyone within the sound of my voice to find a way to be generous, with your time, your talent, or your treasure, to support the families that have been impacted by these storms over the last month and a half.”
“As the old book said, the rain came down, the wind blew, the flood waters rose, but here in Oklahoma, the house did not fall, because it was built on a rock. Built on a rock of faith, compassion and community,” Pence said. “Oklahoma, you are inspiring the nation. So God bless America.”