The President. I have just a quick comment on the west coast, because as daylight breaks there in California, I want the citizens of the San Francisco Bay area and its neighbors first to know that our hearts are with them as they face this terrible tragedy. And words can't adequately convey our sentiments, I know, but I can say that we will take every step and make every effort to help the bay area in its hour of need.
Up-to-the-minute information is coming in here and to FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]. I was just on the phone -- and apologize to my friends from the Hill for keeping them waiting -- with the Vice President, who is out there. Daylight's breaking -- they're about to take a helicopter tour over the area. The Secretary of Transportation is out there -- flew most of the night -- and we're working with State and local officials. John Sununu [Chief of Staff to the President] has been in touch yesterday evening and again today to ensure that the relief effort is coordinated and effective as possible.
FEMA is doing a good job. They're out front; they're trying to respond. There have been some planning in advance for the San Francisco area, and we just want to be sure that that planning is implemented. Thank goodness for organizations like the Red Cross, these local volunteer organizations that are already swinging into play out there. Community police, the fire fighters working around the clock -- our hearts go out to them; our gratitude goes to them as well.
So, I'd like to take this opportunity and ask all of you to follow up to ask the American people to help and support those organizations in every way possible. They responded when this recent Hugo hurricane hit -- these volunteer organizations. And once again, we're going to turn to the American people to help those in need. So, so far, I think, from an organizational standpoint, people are moving in the right direction. And we're going to follow it very, very closely from here.
Q. Mr. President, do you have any sense of how extensive the damage is, particularly outside of the Oakland-San Francisco area?
The President. Well, we're just beginning to get reports in. And it's as reported very thoroughly on the television: the death toll seems to be mounting. And we are concerned, but it's hard to put a total number on it at this point. In fact, I've seen none in the estimates, and that's, I think, prudent -- no point going out there with inadequate data.
Q. There's a lot of interest out there in when you may be ready to sign this disaster declaration. Do you have a sense right now for the timing?
The President. I've already signed it.
Q. You have?
The President. Yes. That was taken care of.
Q. Are you going out there, Mr. President?
The President. I probably will, but I don't want to get in the way. I think the inclination is to go to the scene. We've got the Vice President there and Sam Skinner. But as we all know, there are certain security constraints connected with this job, and the last thing we want to do is clutter things up. But I do want to make a trip out there, and I probably will.
Q. How dangerous is the situation out there with possible aftershocks?
The President. Well, again, I don't want to heighten the concern in any way, but I think that those concerns have been adequately expressed by the scientists.
Q. Can you tell us what you know about what's happening in East Germany today?
The President. Well, I know that there's been a change in the East German GDR party structure, and Honecker being replaced by Egon Krenz. Whether that reflects a change in East-West relations, I don't think so. I don't think it does, because Mr. Krenz has been very much in accord with the policies of Honecker. So, it's too early to say; but there is dynamic change taking place in Eastern Europe and, it now appears, in the GDR. But whether this step is a step towards more openness or not, I think it's way too early to say, and there's nothing in the record that would indicate that it is.
And so, with no further ado, thank you all very much, and we've got to get to work.
Note: The President spoke at 9:39 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. An earthquake that registered 6.9 on the Richter scale hit the San Francisco Bay area at 5:04 p.m. Pacific time on October 17.