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Obama Consoles Survivors of US Storms

President Barack Obama stands with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (l), Sen. Richard Shelby and others, as they toured tornado damage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, April 29, 2011

President Barack Obama walked through the wreckage Friday of a deadly tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Obama pledged to help families in the storm-ravaged Southern United States recover.

Wednesday’s tornadoes and thunderstorms killed at least 339 people across the South, more than 200 of them in Alabama and 36 of those in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama.

President Obama stopped briefly in Tuscaloosa on Friday, to see the destruction for himself.
Whole neighborhoods were flattened, leaving piles of debris around the city and about one million people in the state without electricity. Rescue workers are still searching for survivors.

The president said he had never seen such devastation.

He met with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and other officials, as well as private citizens. Obama said a conversation with the city’s mayor reminded him what elected officials’ priorities should be.

"Politics, differences of religion or race, all that fades away when we are confronted with the awesome power of nature and we are reminded that all we have is each other," said President Obama. "And so, hopefully, that spirit continues and grows. If nothing else comes out of this tragedy, let’s hope that that is one of the things that comes out of it."

The president has called the loss of life from the storms "heartbreaking," and promised that his administration will do everything it can to help people throughout the region recover.

Obama signed a disaster declaration for Alabama Thursday, making federal money available to help residents, businesses and local governments recover from the tragedy.

While visiting Friday, the president said the property damage is extensive, but he is struck by the resilience of the community. He said Tuscaloosa would rebuild in a way that would give him a story of pride he would tell all over the nation.

More than 160 tornadoes were reported throughout the South Wednesday night. The storms caused deaths in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky.