MOORE, Okla. – President Barack Obama visited tornado-devastated Moore, Okla., on Sunday, consoling people staggered by the loss of life and property and promising that the government will be behind them “every step of the way.”
“I’m just a messenger here,” the president said, saying “folks are behind you” across America. He offered moral and monetary support in the wake of the monstrous EF5 tornado that killed 24 people, including 10 children, last Monday afternoon.
Standing with Gov. Mary Fallin and other state and federal officials, Obama noted a substantial rebuilding job ahead and said that “our hearts go out to you.”
“This is a strong community with strong character. There’s no doubt they will bounce back,” he said. “But they need help.”
The White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already provided $57 million in rebates and incentives to help build about 12,000 storm shelters in Oklahoma. “These storm shelters can be the difference between life and death,” presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Shortly after his arrival, Obama rode past grassy fields strewn with scattered debris, witnessing devastation so awesome that it appeared as if garbage had literally rained from the sky. His first stop was the demolished site of the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven students were killed when the tornado turned the one-story building into a heap of bricks, broken concrete and twisted metal.
“I know this is tough,” he told Superintendent Susie Pierce as he gripped her hand. As he walked, the demolished school was on his left and on his right, homes as far as the eye could see were reduced to piles of rubble. Obama later met privately with victims’ families at Moore Fire Department Station 1, which has turned into a command center with dozens of first responders sitting at folding tables where fire trucks are normally parked. Obama marveled that they saved so many lives “given the devastation.”
As he descended the stairs upon landing at Tinker Air Force Base, Obama was greeted first by Fallin, who had said earlier she appreciated the visit, but that her state also needed quick action from FEMA.
The Republican governor said that so far, the agency has done a great job of speeding relief and cash assistance to affected families, but said she’s concerned about the long run.
After Obama departed, Fallin hosted an interdenominational religious service that drew 2,000 people.
“God will give us the ability to mend our broken hearts,” Fallin said at the end of the 80-minute service. “We may be knocked down, but we will rise up again, and for that we thank God.”