April 28th, 2011
05:45 PM ET

Letters to the President: #829 'In the tornadoes' wake'

Reporter's Note: The president is heading to the site of some of those massive storms.

Dear Mr. President,

I assumed the long awaited release of your so called “long form” birth certificate would be the subject of this letter today, but you’ll understand that the tornadoes which ripped through the South have taken over my thoughts.

I’ve probably told you that my whole family lives in Alabama, and we feel rather fortunate that we lost no one. My niece, who attends the University of Alabama, apparently came quite close to being seriously hurt; she was hunkered down in a house as the storm swept past, hearing the windows blow out. I have not spoken with her, yet I’m told she has some glass in her arm, a nasty bruise on one leg, and her car was trashed. But frankly, we’ll take the minor injuries as a blessing since so many families lost loved ones, or their homes. I know they will be trying to recover for a very long time. Alabama is a beautiful state filled with lovely, resilient people; but they need help now.

I have been to many terrible storms over the years, seen the explosive damage of tornadoes many times, and yet it is still heart breaking and awe-inspiring.

And it is still a time when communities need real leaders. As much as we may criticize politicians, a strong, courageous city council member or mayor or governor can make a huge difference. They can marshal forces from police to civil engineers. They can rally resources from the public and private sector. They can, at their best, help people find order in the midst of chaos, and hope amid despair.

Oddly enough, presidents can help, but largely in a more ceremonial way. Don’t get me wrong - approving federal aid is enormously important, and often the arrival of a president at a disaster scene, I think, does help people feel as if their tragedy matters and they are not being forgotten. But the day to day work of rebuilding from disaster depends much more heavily on the strength of local leaders.

So when you go to visit, aside from seeing the damage and consoling communities, remember to let those local leaders know how much you respect the hard work ahead of them, and how they can depend on continued help and expertise to support their efforts in the long months ahead. They will be the front line, and the generals, for now…will need to serve them.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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