The president and first lady arrived in Alabama on Friday to see the aftermath of hundreds of devastating tornadoes.
From the AP:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Gas station lines, looting and the discovery of smashed heirlooms sapped survivors’ energy Friday around cities shattered by the deadliest tornado outbreak in nearly four decades. President Barack Obama arrived in devastated Alabama to console victims, while authorities worked to overcome damaged infrastructure and even a shortage of body bags in one town.
As Obama stepped off a plane at the airport in hard-hit Tuscaloosa, rescuers and survivors combed the remains of neighborhoods pulverized by Wednesday’s outbreak that killed at least 299 across seven states. In one of its first official assessments of the tornadoes’ strength, the National Weather Service gave the worst possible rating to one that raked Mississippi and said it was the strongest to hit the state since 1966.
The president’s arrival drew a muted response from Tuscaloosa resident Derek Harris, who was pushing a grocery buggy down a street where virtually every home was heavily damaged. The 47-year-old and his wife hoped to use the cart to salvage a few belongings from his home.
“Hopefully he’ll give us some money to start over,” Harris said of Obama. “Is FEMA here? The only place I’m hearing anything is at the Red Cross center.”
Some were more upbeat about the president’s visit, including 21-year-old Turner Woods, who watched Obama’s motorcade pass on its way to tour damaged areas. “It’s just really special having the president come here,” she said. “It will bring more attention to this disaster and help get more help here.”
After witnessing the damage in storm-wracked neighborhoods, Obama said he’s “never seen devastation like this.”
He promised residents: “We’re going to make sure you’re not forgotten.”
The situation was dire about 90 miles to the north in the demolished town of Hackleburg, Ala., where officials were keeping the dead in a refrigerated truck amid a body bag shortage. At least 27 were killed there, the search for missing people continues. …
Read more here.
Video report below from MSNBC:
Meanwhile in a bit of irony, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is pretty much on record as thinking the federal government is useless, and even that it’s worth seceding from so Texans can take care of themselves, is now complaining that Obama is taking care of Alabama, but not the Lonestar State:
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – Texas Governor Rick Perry criticized the Obama administration on Thursday for not responding to a request for a disaster aid for the parched state, where wildfires have scorched nearly 2 million acres.
“You have to ask, ‘Why are you taking care of Alabama and other states?’ I know our letter didn’t get lost in the mail,” Perry, a Republican and frequent critic of the federal government, said after addressing a Texas emergency management conference.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Alabama, where storms — including a tornado that ravaged Tuscaloosa on Wednesday — killed nearly 200 people this week.
The White House said Obama will visit the state on Friday.
“There is a point in time where you say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’” Perry said.
Perry had requested a federal declaration of emergency for Texas as the wildfires began to rage across the large state. The request has not been answered, although several federal agencies are supplying firefighters.
“They watch TV, they know what’s going on here, they can recognize that there is going to be a request for assistance, a request for help,” Perry said.
As to the damage, the Telegraph reports:
This week’s tornadoes, most of which touched down on Wednesday, have already claimed the lives of 303 people, while flooding killed another 10 in Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri.
But with dozens still missing and Bentley and other officials warning the body count would rise as rescuers uncover more dead in the debris, the tragedy is likely to surpass the tornado outbreak of April 3, 1974, which killed 310 people.
Mr Obama, who has called the damage “catastrophic,” declared a major disaster in Alabama, which frees up federal search and rescue assistance and recovery aid to the Gulf Coast state, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs and loans to cover uninsured property damage.
Aside from Alabama, the twisters left 34 dead in Tennessee, 33 in Mississippi, 15 in Georgia, six in Arkansas, and five in Virginia, according to state officials.
They were among the strongest to ravage the US in years, with Mississippi officials reporting that the tornado that ripped through the city of Smithville was a rare category EF-5, the strongest rating, with wind speeds up to 205 miles per hour.
UPDATE: Martin Bashir and NBC update the story with the president’s remarks in Alabama: