Obama: Country Will Be 'Shelter from the Storm' for Oklahoma
Standing in front of the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was destroyed by last week's tornado, President Obama offered words of support to the community of Moore, Okla., saying that people across this country will serve as a "shelter from the storm" for all those impacted by the deadly tornadoes.
"God has a plan, and it's important to know that we also recognize we're instruments of His will, and we need to know that as fellow Americans, we're going to be there as shelter from the storm for the people of Moore," the president said in Moore, Okla. at the site where seven students were killed by the tornado on Monday. "When we say we've got your backs, I promise you, we keep our word."
President Obama expressed admiration for the Oklahoma community as it weathered the storm that killed 24 people and looked forward to recovery.
"People here pride themselves on the Oklahoma standard. What Governor Fallin's called being able to work through disasters like this and come out stronger on the other side," he said. "From the forecasters who issued the warnings to the first responders who dug through the rubble to the teachers who shielded with their own bodies their own students, Oklahomans have inspired us with their love and their courage and their fellowship."
"This is a strong community with strong character. There's no doubt they're going to bounce back, but they need help just like any of us would need help if we saw the kind of devastation that we're seeing here," he said. "We know Moore is going to come back stronger from this tragedy."
The president urged Americans to donate to the American Red Cross and assured the people of Moore that resources will be made available to aid in the community's recovery efforts. But as the community looks ahead to rebuilding, the president also issued a reminder that the funding of training programs for first responders is critical to ensuring lives continue to be saved in future disasters.
"Training, education, both for citizenry but also for first responders is absolutely critical, and we've got to make sure that those resources remain in place," he said. "We can't shortchange that kind of ongoing disaster response. We can't just wait till the disaster happens. That's how in part we're able to save a lot of lives."
With children's toys still strewn amid the rubble, the president walked through a neighborhood impacted by the storm before touring the site of Plaza Elementary School.
The president was accompanied by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis on his walk through the devastated sites.
Following his brief statement at the elementary school, the president met with first responders and families of the children whose lives were lost at Plaza Towers Elementary School due to the tornado at a local fire station.
Prior to the president's arrival in Oklahoma Sunday, Fallin expressed concern that "red tape" could hinder recovery efforts in the wake of the tornado.
"We first of all appreciate the president coming to Oklahoma to see the devastation. It is huge here. And a lot of need here. But basically, what I need is the ability to get through red tape, the ability to get the FEMA funds in here quickly and to get the services that our citizens need to help them recover through this terrible disaster," she said on CNN's State of the Union Sunday.
Earlier this week, the president signed a major disaster declaration for Oklahoma and approved additional assistance for the state, including a Debris Removal Pilot Program, which increased the federal share of costs for debris removal to 85 percent for the first 30 days, a White House official said Sunday.