President Barack Obama, the governor of Alabama and Mayor of Tuscaloosa and other officials toured the massive wreckage of major thunderstorms and tornadoes that hit the city on Wednesday and vowed to press forward to help in recovery efforts while sounding a hopeful not despite the tragedy.
Obama toured part of the city, first driving through and then walking around streets where trees had fallen and buildings have been completely destroyed. He with families and officials in the wake of devastating storms in the town which have killed more at least 38 people. Nearly 300 people have died across several states, with 210 fatalities reported in Alabama alone. There were 1,700 people injured in the state, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said.
We just took a tour, and I've got to say I've never seen devastation like this. It is heartbreaking. We were just talking to some residents here who were lucky enough to escape alive, but have lost everything, Obama said.
In addition to keeping all the families who've been affected in our thoughts and prayers, obviously our biggest priority now is to help this community recover, he added.
Obama noted that Alabama Bentley had made sure the state's resources had been mobilized and brought into the area. He also noted that the federal government had given the go-ahead to ensure that the maximum federal help would come as quickly as possible.
We can't bring those who have been lost back. They're alongside God at this point, Obama said. We can help maybe a little bit with the families dealing with the grief of having a loved one lost. But the property damage, which is obviously extensive, that's something that we can do something about.
After landing in the area Friday morning, Obama 's vehicle traveled for 20 minutes from Tuscaloosa airport through the unaffected northwest part of the city, according to a pool report by Perry Bacon Jr. of the Washington Post. He said there was the strong smell of gas in some areas.
Obama exited his vehicle at Alberta, an area within Tuscaloosa, where many houses were completely crumpled or had doors blown off, according the report.
During that portion of the visit, Obama spoke with what appeared to be two parents and their children.
The report noted that houses were marked by officials with an x and the date to let them know if any victims are found.
Following the Alberta visit, Obama went to Holt Elementary School just outside the city limits.
The school, which was severely damaged, according to the report, was now being used as a distribution center for supplies.
Obama met with the school's principal, Debbie Crawford and was told by her that she and the school nurse have been here for 48 hours, and slept only four.
Thank you for helping, and I'm glad you're okay, Obama said.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was also on hand said the Alberta area and the neighborhood near the school suffered the most violent winds and the most damage, including fatalities.
Additional Comments after the Tour
Gov. Bentley thanked the President and First Lady for visiting the state because you know as you fly over this - and I did yesterday - as you fly over it from the air, it does not do it justice until you're here on the ground.
We have eight counties across the state that have been hit by major tornadoes. This probably is the worst one, but we have others. As you go across the state, you see the same evidence of tornadoes all across the state, Bentley said.
Bentley invited Obama to return to the state to maybe go to a football game at a later day when things are better.
I will gladly come back, Obama said.
Mayor Walter Maddox said the last 36 hours have been probably the most trying time in this community's history.
But you're going to see a new story being written here in Tuscaloosa. And in the years to come these chapters are going to be fueled with hope and opportunity, he said.
Since this tragedy began, I've been using Romans 12:12 when Paul wrote under persecution, Rejoice in our confident hope. Well, today, Mr. President, your visit here has brought a confident hope to this community. And in the days, weeks and months to come, we're going to be a story that you're going to be very proud of and you can talk about across this land, Maddox said.
Obama concluded by recalling words from Maddox earlier in the day.
He said, what's amazing is when something like this happens, folks forget all their petty differences. Politics, differences of religion or race, all that fades away when we are confronted with the awesome power of nature. And we're reminded that all we have is each other, Obama recalled.
And so hopefully that spirit continues and grows. If nothing else comes out of this tragedy, let's hope that that's one of the things that comes out.