Biden surveys 'beyond belief' tornado damage in Kentucky, commits to federal aid
"No one is walking away. We are in this for the long haul," Biden said.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday surveyed damage in Kentucky he described as "beyond belief" and met with families in neighborhoods ravaged by deadly tornadoes last weekend.
After Biden surveyed the destruction in Mayfield by air and then on the ground, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear later choked up when thanking Biden publicly and introducing him in Dawson Springs, where Biden had stopped and talked to families whose homes were destroyed, including a 12-year-old girl carrying an American flag in a neighborhood where nearly every tree had been uprooted.
Biden opened his remarks by reminding people used to travel to Dawson Springs for the city's healing waters, but, Biden said, "Now it's our turn to help the entire town to heal."
"I intend to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes to support your state and local leaders, and as you recover and rebuild because you will recover and you will rebuild," Biden said, surrounded by storm damage. "The scope and scale of this destruction is almost beyond belief. When you look around here, it's almost beyond belief. These tornadoes devoured everything in their path."
He also offered condolences for those who lost someone and insisted "something good must happen" from the tragedy.
"I met one couple on the way up, said they're still looking for four of their friends. They don't know where they are. And those who have lost someone, there's no words for the pain of losing someone. A lot of us know it." Biden said.
"Keep the faith," Biden added. "No one is walking away. We are in this for the long haul."
Ahead of his remarks, Biden updated a presidential disaster declaration to boost federal disaster funds from 75% to 100% coverage for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Kentucky for a 30-day period.
Earlier, before receiving a briefing from state and local officials in Kentucky "on the impacts of the tornadoes and extreme weather," according to the White House, Biden vowed all the federal support he can provide to the area, both now and in the months to come.
"Immediately after a disaster is a time when people are really, really moving, and trying to help each other and trying to get things done. But after a month, after six weeks, after two months, people can get themselves to a point where they get fairly depressed about what’s going on, particularly young kids, particularly people who've lost somebody. And so I just want you to know, the help that we're able to offer at the federal level, is not just now," Biden said.
"I've instructed my team to make you all aware of everything that is available from a federal level," Biden added later on. "And some of it has to do outside of FEMA, outside of Homeland Security, there's other programs, including education, there’s a whole range of things, but I'm here to listen."
The president seemed struck by the scale of the damage he saw on his aerial tour.
"As you fly over here, as I've done in the past, I've not seen this tornado, this much damage from a tornado. You know, you think, but for the grace of God, why was I not 100 yards outside that line? Which makes it so different," he noted.
Biden was joined for the visit by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who were on the ground there on Sunday.
At least 88 people have been confirmed dead across five states, 74 in western Kentucky alone, and the death toll could rise "significantly," Beshear said on Tuesday.