Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Obama visits tornado-hit Oklahoma

US President Barack Obama arrives at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Oklahoma (AP)

US President Barack Obama has flown into tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, offering moral and monetary support to people still reeling from lost lives and shattered neighbourhoods. He told survivors: "You've got folks behind you" across America.

Standing with Governor Mary Fallin and other state and federal officials amid the devastation wrought by a monstrous EF5 tornado, Mr Obama said: "A picture's worth a thousand words." He said the rebuilding job will be enormous and "we're going to be with you all the way".

"Our hearts go out to you," Mr Obama said, noting the loss of life and some 1,200 homes. He urged the American people to pitch in and help, saying that in instances such as this, the president serves as a "messenger" for all citizens, bringing words of condolence, promises of government assistance and pleas for private contributions.

Twenty-four people, including 10 children, died when the nearly tornado hit with little notice last Monday afternoon.

The White House said before his arrival that Mr Obama wanted a first-hand look at the destruction and recovery efforts.

Shortly after his arrival on a partly cloudy day, Mr Obama road in his motorcade 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-storey building into a heap of bricks, broken concrete and twisted metal.

Mr Obama walked along Eagle Drive, with the demolished school on his left and on his right, homes reduced as far as the eye could see to piles of rubble. Vehicles were turned upside down and toys were strewn with furniture and ripped out wall insulation.

"I know this is tough," he told one school official.

Mr Obama flew from Washington into Tinker Air Force Base and shook hands with personnel whose homes off base were lost or damaged.

Mr Fallin, the first to greet the president as he got off the plane, said she appreciates the visit, but the state also needs quick action from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help the ravaged town of 41,000 people.

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