Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rapid response promised for Greensburg

May 10, 2007

Steve Strecker, who owns the McDonalds in Pratt was sweeping up and his wife, Jolan, cleaning tables. The customers next to my booth suddenly became quiet.

I had just come from Greensburg, walking around the rubble and taking an aerial tour with our Kansas National Guard General Todd Bunting. Our group included Congressmen Jerry Moran, who represents Greensburg and Todd Tiahrt, his wife, Vicki, and our staffs.

After touring the devastation, I went east to visit with the victims of the killer tornado at two shelters in Haviland 10 miles away. We spent an hour sharing shock, grief and prayer. The last person I visited with, an elderly gentleman who only had the clothes on his back, sat staring into nothingness, sitting on a cot. He simply looked at me and said, "Senator, thanks for coming; I just don't know how I will get my life and home back."

That is when I decided we had to cut the red tape that usually is involved in getting a Federal Disaster Declaration and critical assistance to local officials and to homeless residents.

Well, if you want to cut red tape, there is nothing like going to the person who can get that done. With my cup of coffee in Steve's McDonalds and my cell phone, I called the White House and my call was transferred quickly to President George Bush personally.

After relating what I had seen to the president, he promised he would declare Kansas and Greensburg eligible for federal disaster aid as soon as he received the governor's request, and noted FEMA officials were already notified and on the way. In our 10-minute conversation, he asked many more questions on what we had seen and the well being of the citizens of Greensburg. All that was left in the red tape cutting business was for the governor to request the declaration, which Gov. Kathleen Sebelius promptly did.

As a result, there will be hope and assistance to that elderly gentleman who now will be able to go home to a re-constructed Greensburg if he chooses.

After hanging up, I realized I had been talking in a loud voice and that customers sitting next to our booth were pretty quiet.

"Pat, was that the president you were talking to?" said a man in the next booth.

"Yes sir, it was and I think help is on the way," I answered.

He turned to his wife and said, "I told you he was talking to the president, right here from Steve Strecker's McDonalds."

In the meantime, Steve and Jolan, who had just sent some 600 breakfasts over to Greensburg and the shelters at Haviland that morning, were making plans to send over more breakfasts to the shelters on Sunday.

That is when another customer who overheard the conversation jokingly said Steve should put a plaque on the wall where we called the President and cut through the red tape.

Too often, government does not communicate and work well as a partner in times of need and emergency -- double that for Congress.

This time around, with the tremendous effort on the part of our National Guard, local law enforcement, the Red Cross, many volunteers, and especially the local officials like Greensburg City Administrator Steve Hewitt, who along with George Bush, the Federal Emergency team and our state emergency team are now working 24-7 to make it possible for that elderly gentleman to come back home.

Oh, by the way, if you are traveling through Pratt, Steve and Jolan serve a mighty good cup of coffee.

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