"I've never seen this kind of response," said Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (D), "and we've had our share of tornadoes and so forth." The Volunteer State governor was speaking to reporters on a conference call arranged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from Nashville, which has been hit hard by rains last weekend.
"FEMA and the White House could not have been more helpful in this thing," Bredesen said. Record amounts of rain fell Saturday and Sunday, more than 13 inches recorded in parts of Tennessee. Officials Thursday reported the state's 20th death from the storm and subsequent flooding.
After speaking with the governor Monday, President Obama signed a disaster declaration for the state Tuesday, sending federal aid to Tennessee to help supplement the state and local recovery efforts. While Governor Bredesen wouldn't put a precise dollar amount on a damage assessment, he admitted, "it's a lot of money, it's a lot of money. I'd be astonished if not a billion dollars."
Governor Bredesen recognized his state's emergency was "sandwiched between" the news coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the attempted car bombing in New York's Times Square, and while he wanted to call national attend to the "extraordinary event", he noted the Obama administration has been focused from the beginning. "FEMA was on the ground before the rain drops fell," said Bredesen, who noted he'd not only spoken to Mr. Obama, but Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett. "We're very pleased with the response we've gotten from the administration."
Bredesen said that during their Monday conversation, he and Mr. Obama did talk about a future presidential visit. Both agreed it would be counter-productive for the president to come down south in the first days following the storm as so many resources are needed to accommodate a presidential visit. Bredesen said however that "if he wanted to do so at this point, he'd be very welcome."
The Tennessee governor says no one in his state feels "slighted" by the fact the president has not yet been down to assess the damage first hand. "He has a lot on his plate, and we're working through these things with FEMA and the Red Cross," said Bredesen. "But he's welcome to come any time he wants," as is Secretary Napolitano, to whom Bredesen has also extended an invitation, and she's accepted - the secretary will head to Tennessee Saturday to visit Nashville and the surrounding areas. Napolitano will meet with Governor Bredesen and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who is currently in state, on his second trip to Tennessee since last weekend's storm.