U.S. President Barack Obama has toured a tornado-ravaged town in the south-central state of Oklahoma, offering comfort and long-term federal aid for survivors of last week's storm that killed 24 people.
Speaking beside the ruins of an elementary school in the town of Moore on Sunday, Obama said it is "hard to comprehend" the damage from the unusual EF-5 tornado, the strongest category on the U.S. tornado scale. Ten of those killed were children, including seven students who were in that school when the storm hit.
The tornado also injured 377 people and destroyed 1,200 homes, a second elementary school and a hospital. The damage is estimated to be around $2 billion.
Flanked by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and other officials, Obama urged people to donate to the American Red Cross to help the town recover. He also promised that residents who suffered significant damage will receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
He also met with tornado survivors and visited a fire station that served as a command center for emergency workers, whom he praised for saving many lives.
Obama has visited several scenes of tragedy in the United States in the past year, offering support to Boston after last month's bomb attack on the city's annual marathon, to a Connecticut town hit by a shooting rampage in December, and to New Jersey coastal residents affected by Superstorm Sandy last October.
In his Sunday remarks, the president urged Congress to maintain funding for programs that provide training and equipment to emergency services, saying those resources help to save lives and cannot be "shortchanged."
President Barack Obama talks with Julie Lewis, her husband Scott Lewis, and their son Zack, a third-grader at the destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School seen in the background, Moore, Oklahoma, May 26, 2013.
Rae Kittrell holds her son Rylan, who turned one-year-old two days after the tornado, a block away from her house in Moore, Oklahoma, May 22, 2013.
Chad Allcox, left, helps his friend Kevin McElvany, right, the home owner, clear debris away from his destroyed home from Monday's tornado, Moore, Oklahoma, May 22, 2013.
Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball player Kevin Durant walks past tornado-damaged homes in a neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma, May 22, 2013.
Jordan Humphrey, a 6th grader at tornado-damaged Briarwood elementary school, shows his mother Mary and his brother Jacob his soggy yearbook after his backpack was retrieved for him by a firefighter in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 22, 2013.
A sign reads "God Bless Moore" as workers make repairs to the Warren theater in Moore, Oklahoma, which was left devastated by a tornado, May 22, 2013.
A soggy American flag hangs in a broken window at Wayne Osmus' home in Moore, Oklahoma. Osmus' family hid in a closet Monday after winds kept them from taking refuge in the storm shelter.
Charles Taber opens the two-week old storm shelter that saved his life in the May 20 tornado in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 22, 2013.
Farmers Insurance worker, Paul Gaipo, looks through tornado-damaged cars at a destroyed strip mall, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma.
A search-and-rescue team from Tennessee searches a field, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma.
Susan Kates salvages items from a friend's tornado-ravaged home, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma.
Claudia Clark clears tornado debris from a cemetery, May 22, 2013, in Moore, Oklahoma.