Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said Wednesday that he was confident Oklahoma will get the help it needs in the wake of the deadly tornado that swept through the state, adding that “these are awfully tough people, and we’ve done this before, sadly, so we’re pretty good at dealing with it.”
Mr. Cole, who for some time served as a groundskeeper at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was destroyed by the disaster, said his family and neighbors were “very lucky.”
“Our street was spared, so, neighbors are fine, family’s fine, just struggling with no power, but believe me, that’s not much of a problem when you look around and see what other people are dealing with, so we’re fine,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show.
Mr. Cole said he was back in Washington with Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican, with the television on and saw news that tornadoes were near.
“I looked up and said, ‘my gosh, that’s my cleaners that’s just been destroyed,’ and I began immediately to try to get back here and knew we were going to have a tough situation on the ground, but these are awfully tough people, and we’ve done this before, sadly, so we’re pretty good at dealing with it,” Mr. Cole said Wednesday.
Host Matt Lauer pointed out that there was about $1 billion in damage in the May 3, 1999, disaster that swept through the area, but Mr. Cole said it was too early to judge estimates this time around.
“The first thing — I just focus on the people, obviously the folks who lost family and friends and homes and make sure they’re taken care of, and that’s underway,” he said. “The larger damage assessment will take a bit longer, but it’s going to be very serious. … Clearly, we’re going to need some help, and I’m sure it’ll be forthcoming.”
As of 2 a.m., more than 1,000 individuals affected by the tornadoes and severe weather in Oklahoma had registered for assistance with FEMA, a White House official said.
Mr. Cole said his vote for Superstorm Sandy aid earlier in the year was partly because of the territory he represents.
He said he told a colleague then, “Look, you’re from Oklahoma, you’re one tornado away from being Joplin, Missouri. I was secretary of state here during the Oklahoma City bombing, and I believe when you have a disaster, yes, you want to be prudent, and I applaud my colleagues for trying to do that and do it the right way. There are ways to do it, but you immediately help the people in the affected areas.”
A tornado in Joplin two years ago killed more than 150 people and injured many more. At least 24 people were killed and more than 230 people were injured this week in Oklahoma.
“And on the Sandy vote, we had a [spending offset] vote, that’s perfectly appropriate,” Mr. Cole continued. “But once that didn’t make it, you want to continue and go ahead and help the people who need the help. And that’s what we’ve always done as Americans, and I feel very strongly about that.”
Officials have said the federal government should have enough money right now to cover the costs associated with recovery in Oklahoma.