MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY (REUTERS) – President Joe Biden walked through the battered remains of Mayfield, Kentucky, on Wednesday (Dec 16) to get a first-hand view of the destruction wrought by one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in recent US history.
The disaster, which killed at least 74 people in Kentucky and 14 elsewhere, has thrown Biden into his familiar role as consoler-in-chief. He promised to bring the might of the federal government to rebuild devastated communities that suffered billions of dollars in damage.
In downtown Mayfield, Biden walked past scene after scene of the tornado’s rampage, including piles of brick and scattered boards sat where structures used to be and dozens of buildings were turned to rubble.
He stopped to chat with a woman who was sitting on a pile of bricks. He and his entourage paused to pray in the middle of a street. His message to faith-based groups helping out was,”You’re doing God’s work.”
In an earlier briefing with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and emergency response officials, Biden said it was remarkable how the area’s communities had come together to help each other out.
“There’s no red tornadoes, there’s no blue tornadoes,” he said, referring to the colors associated with Democrats and Republicans.
“I have not seen this much damage from a tornado,” he said, telling local officials, “don’t hesitate to ask for anything.”
Beshear has said the dead included a dozen children and that he expected the death toll to rise in the coming days, with more than 100 still missing.
After Mayfield, Biden is set to tour Dawson Springs. The two towns, which are located about 100km apart, were largely flattened by the twisters.
The president’s goal is to survey storm damage and make sure the US government is doing everything it can to deliver assistance as quickly as possible to the hard-hit areas, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on the flight from Washington.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has sent search-and-rescue and emergency response teams to Kentucky, along with teams to help survivors register for assistance.
Fema has also sent dozens of generators into the state, along with over half a million litres of water, 74,000 meals and thousands of cots, blankets, infant toddler kits and pandemic shelter kits.
Mayfield was the hardest hit of several western Kentucky communities in the 300km path of a twister that turned cities into piles of debris that are now being hauled away by work crews and National Guard troops.
The city of 10,000 is under a boil-water order and accounts for more than one-third of the state’s 14,000 power outages.
City Council member Jana Adams said it would take seven to 10 days for crews to resurrect utility poles and hook up transmission lines.
“We have linemen from all over the country here going out in the field and setting poles and running lines for us,” Adams, who is also on the board of the local electric and water utility, told CNN.
Biden has approved federal disaster declarations for Kentucky and the neighboring states of Tennessee and Illinois, offering residents and local officials increased federal aid.
Credit ratings agency DBRS Morningstar said the tornadoes were likely the most severe in the United States since 2011.
Insurers are sufficiently prepared to cover claims without significant capital impact, it said in a report.
The trip marks one of the few that Biden, a Democrat, has taken to areas that tilt heavily toward the Republican Party, many of whose voters and leaders have embraced Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims that he won the 2020 election.
The White House has been careful not to bring politics into the disaster relief efforts, including not focusing on what role, if any, climate change may have played in the tragic events.
Even as the president toured the destruction in Mayfield, there were small shouts of “Let’s go Brandon,” an anti-Biden slogan.
Biden is no stranger to tragic personal loss. He lost his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash, and his older son, Beau, died in 2015 after a fight with brain cancer.
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