The massive tornado killed 24 people – including seven children at the school President Obama visited. The disaster also ripped a 17-mile-long (27-km-long) corridor of destruction through the suburb of the neighborhood of the area, flattening entire blocks of homes, two schools and a hospital.
“Obviously the damage here is pretty hard to comprehend,” the president said, standing on the ruins that used to be buildings and houses lined the side of the street. Rare items that survived the twister – a television set, a pink baby carriage – stood in contrast to the wreckage.
The visit to the ruined Oklahoma was one in a series of responses the U.S. president 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.
“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.”
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.”
According to the White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already provided US $57 million for building about 12,000 storm shelters in Oklahoma.
“These storm shelters can be the difference between life and death,” presidential spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters accompanying Obama to Oklahoma on Air Force One.
President Obama declared a major disaster area in the region and ordered federal and local service to do their best in helping people after the deadliest U.S. tornado since one killed 161 people in Joplin, Missouri, two years ago.
The force of the tornado was terrifying, said witnesses. One woman who was trapped inside her home, which collapsed in the wind, called her daughter to tell her she was short of breath.
Tiffany Thronesberry said she heard from her mother, Barbara Jarrell, shortly after the tornado struck.
“I got a phone call from her screaming, ‘Help! Help! I can’t breathe. My house is on top of me!’” she said.
She was later pulled out of the ruins of her home alive, writes The Telegraph.
Cyndi Christopher was at work and intended to pick up her son from daycare when she heard the storm warning. After taking her son home, the woman was forced to flee when she noticed the storm was coming their way.
“I drove as fast as I could and I outran the storm,” she said.
The National Weather Service assigned the tornado a preliminary ranking of EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, meaning the second most powerful category of twists.
“The whole city looks like a debris field,” Glenn Lewis, the mayor of Moore, told reporters.
“It looks like we have lost our hospital. I drove by there a while ago and it’s pretty much destroyed,” he said.