Obama pledges federal aid post tornado

00:43, May 27 2013
Oklahoma tornado
Two girls stand in the rubble left by the massive twister.
Oklahoma tornado
Abby Madi and Peterson Zatterlee comforts Zaterlee's dog Rippy.
Oklahoma tornado
A rescue worker looks for victims in the rubble of a destroyed building at the Moore Hospital.
Neighbours united after tornado
Another survivor of the tornado, James Cornell, stops for a cigarette break. So far he has only recovered tools from his shed.
Neighbours united after tornado
A home searched and marked clear of occupants in Moore, Oklahoma.
Neighbours united after tornado
Melvin Harder in the shelter that protected his family.

Standing by a pile of debris that once was an elementary school, US President Barack Obama called the destruction last week’s tornado wrought in Moore, Oklahoma, ‘‘hard to comprehend’’ and vowed to provide long-term federal help in rebuilding.

The tornado, rated at the top of a five-step scale used to measure the destructive power of twisters, killed 24 people - including seven children at the school site Obama visited.

It ripped a 27km long corridor of destruction through the suburb of Oklahoma City, flattening entire blocks of homes, two schools and a hospital.

US tornadoes as storm hits
Local TV station KOCO 5 News showed pictures of tornado damage on a major road.
tornado Oklahoma
"A dangerous supercell moving through NE Norman (Oklahoma)," the National Weather Service tweeted.
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A tornado photo from Oklahoma tweeted by the National Weather Service in the US.
US tornadoes as storm hits
An aerial view of the damage in the aftermath of tornadoes that touched down just outside of Wellston, Oklahoma.
US tornadoes as storm hits
One of the twisters spotted over the skies of Harrah, Oklahoma.
US tornadoes as storm hits
Images from KFOR-TV show the extent of the damage.
US tornadoes as storm hits
Images from KFOR-TV show the extent of the damage.
US tornadoes as storm hits
A tornado caught on tape by motorist Steve Rieck.
US tornadoes as storm hits
A resident waits to be allowed back to her mobile home after a tornado swept through the western part of Shawnee, Oklahoma.
US tornadoes as storm hits
A truck rests on its side against the guard rails on Interstate 40 as another trailer lies broken open on the road below after falling from I-40, following a tornado.
US tornadoes as storm hits
The mobile home park was destroyed by the tornado.
Leah Hill, left, of Shawnee, Oklahoma, is hugged by friend Sidney Sizemore
Leah Hill, left, of Shawnee, Oklahoma, is hugged by friend Sidney Sizemore, as they look through Hill's scattered belongings.
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A tornado is pictured near a home in South Haven, Kansas.
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The funnel of a tornadic thunderstorm almost touches the ground near South Haven, Kansas.
Oklahoma tornado
Storm chasers get close to a tornadic thunderstorm, one of several tornadoes that touched down, in South Haven, Kansas.
Kansas storms
Lightning from a tornadic thunderstorm passing over Clearwater, Kansas strikes at an open field.
Oklahoma tornado
A flattened neighbourhood in suburban Oklahoma City after being hit by the massive tornado.
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Lando Hite took shelter in a barn when the tornado hit the horse farm where he works.
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Damage in Moore, Oklahoma City.
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The tornado as it approached the city.
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The ruins of Plaza Towers Elementary School.
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Rescue teams were scouring the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School for children.
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Plaza Towers Elementary School from the air.
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The force of the tornado tossed cars around with vicious force.
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Residents start on repair work soon after the tornado.
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Destroyed cars after the huge tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma.
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People look at the destruction after the tornado ripped up at least two elementary schools and a hospital and left a wake of tangled wreckage.
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Rescue workers help free one of the 15 people trapped in a Moore Hospital building after a tornado tore through the area.
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Twisted metal lies in the road after the tornado.
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A nurse helps an older man hurt during the storm.
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The winds ripped the steeple off this church in Moore.
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The Moore Hospital was badly damaged by the tornado.
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The Oklahoma County Sheriff tweeted this survivor photo. "Scared, but this little pup survived."
Oklahoma tornado
People who survived the tornado in Oklahoma City comfort each other as the rescue operation swings into action.
Oklahoma tornado
Two girls stand in the rubble left by the massive twister.
Oklahoma tornado
Abby Madi and Peterson Zatterlee comforts Zaterlee's dog Rippy.
Oklahoma tornado
Rescuers search through the rubble in Moore, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma tornado
Damaged cars are seen in the parking lot of Moore Hospital after the tornado struck.
Oklahoma tornado
Rescue workers help free one of 15 people trapped in a medical building at the Moore hospital complex.
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A rescue worker looks for victims in the rubble of a destroyed building at the Moore Hospital.

‘‘Obviously the damage here is pretty hard to comprehend,’’ Obama said, standing on a block where piles of boards, bricks and cinder blocks that used to be buildings and houses lined the side of the street.

Rare items that survived the disaster - a television set, a pink baby carriage - stood in contrast to the wreckage.

The visit to the disaster-shaken town was one in a series of responses Obama has made in recent months to tragedies, including the Boston Marathon bombings last month; a December mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut; and the destruction that Superstorm Sandy caused along the Jersey Shore in October.

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‘‘Whenever I come to an area that has been devastated by some natural disaster like this, I want to make sure that everyone understands that I am speaking on behalf of the entire country,’’ said Obama, flanked by officials including Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin.

‘‘Everywhere, fellow Americans are praying with you, they’re thinking about you and they want to help. And I’m just a messenger here letting you know that you are not alone.’’

Cars with their bodies dented and windows smashed lay under debris or twisted on their sides. Rising above the wasteland were at least three American flags that had been attached to the rubble, waving in the wind.

Caleb Sloan, 24, who lost his home in the storm, said Obama’s words gave him hope that help would be forthcoming.

‘‘He has no choice but to live by his word,’’ Sloan said.

‘‘I hope and pray and think he will keep his promises.’’

SPATE OF STORMS

The May 20 tornado in Moore was the most powerful of a spate of 76 twisters that touched down in 10 states from May 18 through May 20, causing an estimated US$2 billion to US$5 billion in insured losses, according to disaster-modelling company Eqecat.

The Moore tornado, the deadliest such windstorm to hit the United States in two years, also injured 377 people.

While assuring that residents of the 1200 homes the storm destroyed would receive extended federal help, Obama also urged lawmakers to maintain funding for the training and equipment that emergency responders rely on in the aftermath of disasters.

‘‘We can’t shortchange that kind of ongoing disaster response, we can’t just wait until the disaster happens,’’ Obama said.

‘‘That’s how, in part, we’re able to save a lot of lives.’’

After the president left, the town held its own memorial service at First Baptist Church of Moore that included a performance by the Oklahoma Strong Children’s Choir, made up of Moore school children who were affected by the storm.

Reuters