President Obama visited Moore, Okla., on Sunday to view the devastation left by last week's vast tornado and to reassure the community of sustained support from the federal government on its cleanup and rebuilding.
"Oklahomans have inspired us with their love, their courage and their fellowship," Obama said, surrounded by state and federal officials and tornado survivors clustered in front of high mounds of debris.
"This is a strong community with strong character. There's no doubt they will bounce back. But they need help."
PHOTOS: Powerful tornado slams Oklahoma
He repeatedly sought to assure Oklahomans that they were not alone and that after the news media left, the federal government would remain to help, a pledge he has made in the wake of other weather-related disasters. “When I say that we've got your back, we keep our word,” Obama said.
Obama arrived on Air Force One at Tinker Air Force Base around noon CDT, where he was met on the tarmac by officials including Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who represents Moore.
The president then spent several minutes greeting Moore residents affected by the tornado and some military personnel before leaving to view Moore’s destroyed neighborhoods.
About 350 Moore families have lost their homes. Obama toured the area in shirt sleeves, walking down a road where houses and the Plaza Towers Elementary School had been turned into a massive version of pick-up sticks. The tornado killed 24 people, 10 of whom were children, including seven from Plaza Towers.
In his speech, Obama said he had come as a messenger for the entire country.
"I'm speaking on behalf of the entire country," he said as the wind whipped around him. "Fellow Americans are praying for you and thinking about you."
In an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” earlier in the day, Fallin said the state needed “quick action” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“So far FEMA's done a great job,” the governor said. “They were here immediately on the spot. They had been throughout the different neighborhoods. I personally have met with them many times. But, you know, there's going to come a time when there's going to be a tremendous amount of need once we begin the debris clearing, which we already have, but really get it cleared off to where we need to start rebuilding these homes, rebuilding these businesses and we know at different times in the past, money hasn't come always as quickly as it should, so I'm hoping that FEMA will be very prompt in getting the relief here.”
Fallin, a Republican, and the state’s two GOP senators, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have repeatedly described the federal government as inefficient. The senators have voted against providing disaster relief to some other parts of the country.
According to the Oklahoman newspaper, Obama “had an impromptu meeting with several aides and rescue workers and officials. He told them he was proud of them and that it would be a long road. He said a lot of lives were saved and that was due to great work and great coordination.”