Hours after her first appearance on CNN’s "American Morning," Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) made a second network appearance on Monday’s "The Situation Room," where she repeated her Iraq-ruined-tornado-recovery line, that "what really is hampering our reactions like this and our opportunity to clean up quickly is the equipment shortage."
Prior to her interview, CNN correspondent Brian Todd gave a report that was meant to reenforce Sebelius's claims. The report featured sound bytes from the governor and from the National Guard officials, who all claimed that the equipment shortages have had a detrimental effect. However, Todd also reported that "Kansas National Guard officials tell us they can manage this disaster with the equipment they have, and the shortage has had not effect on deaths or injuries in Greensburg."
Also, according to a Defense Department press release from the same day, "Under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which is a national partnership agreement that allows state-to-state assistance during governor or federally declared emergencies, Kansas has more than 400,000 Guardsmen available to it.... However, Kansas has not yet requested assistance from other states." (A Human Events report on Tuesday confirmed that the Missouri National Guard has not been asked by the State of Kansas to help in the clean-up.)
Blitzer asked Sebelius why she hadn't asked neighboring governors for help. She remained focused on her talking points, and said, "Well, unfortunately, what we're seeing here in Kansas goes on across the country. We will ask our friends and neighbors for assets. But the National Guard equipment, the -- 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are National Guard, and they come from across the country. Their equipment is gone also."
Even though the governor stuck with her talking points, she was satisfied by President Bush's reaction to the tornado damage. "We were very pleased with prompt reaction. A declaration was signed by the president 24 hours after this tornado hit. The FEMA director is here with us today. David Paulison is on the ground here in Greensburg. And the president will be here in two days. So, we definitely have the national attention here in south central Kansas, and we're very grateful for that."
Both Todd's report and Blitzer's interview with the governor played up the possibility that the effects of the equipment shortage may be compounded by any additional disasters.
The key excerpts from Brian Todd's report and Wolf Blitzer's interview with Governor Sebelius:
TODD: To recover in Greensburg, tons of debris will have to be cleared away. Some crucial first responders, National Guard units, are being hampered in this effort. And officials say troop strength is not the problem.
GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), ARKANSAS: We need trucks. We are missing Humvees. We're missing all kinds of equipment that could help us respond to this kind of emergency.
TODD: Kansas National Guard officials tell us they now have less than half the equipment allocated to them by the U.S. National Guard Bureau, and they've been dealing with the shortfall for years.
MAJ. GEN. TOD BUNTING, KANSAS NATIONAL GUARD: We weren't fully equipped with all the resources we needed before the war started. So that, and the fact that we went with a bunch of our forces to Iraq and Afghanistan just further depleted us....
TODD: Kansas National Guard officials tell us they can manage this disaster with the equipment they have, and the shortage has had no effect on deaths or injuries in Greensburg. But...
BUNTING: If we had another big storm right now, we would be hard-pressed to cover that.
TODD: And they may be hard-pressed soon. Weather officials tell us not only are we in the peak month for tornado season, but storm systems have just caused flash flooding and evacuations in Topeka and the Kansas City area....
WOLF BLITZER: We did some checking with the National Guard Bureau, Governor, and we found out that, in Kansas, you have about 5,500 troops in the National Guard. And, what, almost 800 of them or so are deployed in Iraq right now. How much of a factor is that in dealing with this current crisis?
SEBELIUS: Well, the troop strength is -- is down a bit because of the deployment. We actually have about 900 of our troops overseas. We can cope with that. It was about twice as high a year ago. What really is hampering reactions like this, and our opportunity to clean up quickly, is the equipment shortage. It's something that governors across this country have talked about to the president, to the Department of Defense, really for well over two years. And it's happening every place in the country. When a Guard unit is deployed, the equipment goes with them. It doesn't come back, and it isn't replaced.
BLITZER: Because, a lot of times, they just hand over that equipment to other units coming in, or they give it to the Iraqis. Is that what happens?
SEBELIUS: Well, that's right. It's, as they call it, up- armored. Clearly, we don't need the kind of armor in Kansas that you need to defend against an IED attack driving down a street in Tallil, which is where one of our engineering companies was recently.
So, it isn't appropriate, probably, that that same piece of equipment come back. It's damaged by the war. It's damaged by the sand. And it has too much armor on it. But what hasn't happened over the course of the four years of the war is that equipment be replaced. So, about 50 percent of our heavy equipment is gone right now from Kansas. We're missing front-loaders and dump trucks. We're missing backhoes. We're missing bulldozers. We're missing Humvees to move people around. We're missing Black Hawk helicopters that could do aerial surveillance and move heavy and awkward equipment up and down the airways, instead of the highways....
BLITZER: And it would be compounded, obviously. If, God forbid, you suffered another disaster, another tornado, ripped apart another community in Kansas, you clearly would be suffering as a result of that shortage of equipment.
SEBELIUS: Well, actually, Wolf, we're doing that right now. We have National Guard units in the northeast part of our state who are -- had to evacuate a nursing home last night, who had to set up a shelter around the capital city, because about 500 people were flooded out of their homes. All of our schools in Topeka were closed today. We have got a small community in Rossville which is flooded. So, again, the National Guard is currently being deployed here in south central Kansas and there in northeast Kansas right now, today, simultaneously. And that is a strain under any conditions....
BLITZER: But why not simply ask some neighboring governors for help?
SEBELIUS: Well, unfortunately, what we're seeing here in Kansas goes on across the country. We will ask our friends and neighbors for assets. But the National Guard equipment, the -- 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are National Guard, and they come from across the country. Their equipment is gone also.
BLITZER: Any indication the president of the United States might drop by to offer his support?
SEBELIUS: Actually, the president indicates that he is coming here tomorrow -- I'm sorry -- on Wednesday. I am forgetting what day it is. He will be here on Wednesday. We were very pleased with prompt reaction. A declaration was signed by the president 24 hours after this tornado hit. The FEMA director is here with us today. David Paulison is on the ground here in Greensburg. And the president will be here in two days. So, we definitely have the national attention here in south central Kansas, and we're very grateful for that.