KISSIMMEE, Fla., Feb. 25 -- Three days after tornadoes ripped through central Florida, President Clinton said he was 'moved and awestruck' by the damage and promised to do 'whatever...is within our power' to help. Clinton stopped in Florida today en route to the western United States for a previously scheduled five-day fund-raising and family trip. He toured the staggering tornado damage in Osceola County on a 45-minute helicopter ride before visiting the hard-hit Ponderosa RV Park and Campground. At least 39 people were killed and more than 200 injured when the deadly twisters touched down. Clinton said: 'What took just seconds to destroy will take weeks and months and, in some cases, maybe even years to rebuild. Your fellow Americans are praying for you...and whatever it is within our power to do to help you return to normal lives, we will do.' James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, accompanied the president and told reporters, 'It's just too early to say' how much the damage would cost. Clinton has already designated 34 Florida counties as eligible for federal emergency assistance, and he said 12 more now can get money to restore facilities: Bradford, Citrus, Columbia, Duval, Hamilton, Hardy, Highlands, Marion, Nassau, Osceola, Suwannee and Union counties. He said $3 million from the Labor Department would go for temporary jobs to assist in disaster recovery work. While Clinton brought words of solace, most people were just glad they survived. One woman, Peggy Smith from Ponderosa, won a hug from Clinton and condolences for a black eye.
Smith said, 'We're just so fortunate to be alive.' Clinton then headed from one El Nino-related disaster to another, traveling to Northern California, which has been beset by unusual amounts of rain and flooding. He said he was taking Witt with him to inspect storm damage there, estimated to be at least $250 million. Clinton originally planned the trip to visit his daughter Chelsea on her 18th birthday and to attend a series of Democratic Party fund- raisers in California. Dropping plans to attend Stanford University's parents weekend, the first family will instead head to Utah. ---
Copyright 1998 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---