President Obama signs disaster declaration after tornadoes

12:13 PM, May 21, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Obama: All resources are available to Oklahomans

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation regarding the Internal Revenue Service May 15, 2013 in the East Room of the White House. (Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama has offered his condolences to Oklahoma lawmakers in the aftermath of deadly tornadoes that has claimed at least two dozen lives.

GALLERY | Oklahoma tornado damage

"The president praised the brave first responders, and made clear that the country would stand behind the people of Oklahoma as they continued to respond and recover," said a White House readout of phone calls with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole.

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On Monday night, Obama signed a disaster declaration for Oklahoma, clearing the way for federal aid. The White House said he received updates on the tragedy throughout the evening.

Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been dispatched to Oklahoma to coordinate the federal government's response to the tragedy, the White House said.

The federal response includes survivor assistance, damage assessment, and search and rescue teams.

Obama's briefing Tuesday morning included Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, chief of staff Denis McDonough, and other senior officials on his response team.

During a Monday night phone conversation with Fallin, Obama told the governor that his administration "stands ready to provide all available assistance as the governor's team responds to the storm and that he has directed his team to ensure that they are providing available resources as the response unfolds," said a White House readout.

The readout added that Obama told Fallin that "the people of Oklahoma are in his and the first lady's thoughts and prayers and, while his team will continue to keep him updated, he urged her to be in touch directly if there were additional resources the administration could provide."

The president's remarks were presented as follows:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. As we all know by now, a series of storms swept across the Plains yesterday, and one of the most destructive tornadoes in history sliced through the towns of Newcastle and Moore, Oklahoma. In an instant, neighborhoods were destroyed. Dozens of people lost their lives. Many more were injured. And among the victims were young children, trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew -- their school.

So our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today.

Our gratitude is with the teachers who gave their all to shield their children; with the neighbors, first responders, and emergency personnel who raced to help as soon as the tornado passed; and with all of those who, as darkness fell, searched for survivors through the night.

As a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead.

Yesterday, I spoke with Governor Fallin to make it clear to Oklahomans that they would have all the resources that they need at their disposal. Last night, I issued a disaster declaration to expedite those resources, to support the Governor's team in the immediate response, and to offer direct assistance to folks who have suffered loss. I also just spoke with Mayor Lewis of Moore, Oklahoma, to ensure that he's getting everything that he needs.

I've met with Secretary Napolitano this morning and my Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor, Lisa Monaco, to underscore that point that Oklahoma needs to get everything that it needs right away. The FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate, is on his way to Oklahoma as we speak. FEMA staff was first deployed to Oklahoma's Emergency Operations Center on Sunday, as the state already was facing down the first wave of deadly tornadoes. Yesterday, FEMA activated Urban Search and Rescue Teams from Texas, Nebraska, and Tennessee to assist in the ongoing search and rescue efforts, and a mobile response unit to boost communications and logistical support.

So the people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them as long as it takes. For there are homes and schools to rebuild, businesses and hospitals to reopen, there are parents to console, first responders to comfort, and, of course, frightened children who will need our continued love and attention.

There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms, and bedrooms, and classrooms, and, in time, we're going to need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community.

We don't yet know the full extent of the damage from this week's storm. We don't know both the human and economic losses that may have occurred. We know that severe rumbling of weather, bad weather, through much of the country still continues, and we're also preparing for a hurricane season that begins next week.

But if there is hope to hold on to, not just in Oklahoma but around the country, it's the knowledge that the good people there and in Oklahoma are better prepared for this type of storm than most. And what they can be certain of is that Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need. Because we're a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes. We've seen that spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa; we saw that spirit in Boston and Breezy Point. And that's what the people of Oklahoma are going to need from us right now.

For those of you who want to help, you can go online right now to the American Red Cross, which is already on the ground in Moore. Already we've seen the University of Oklahoma announce that it will provide housing for displaced families. We've seen local churches and companies open their doors and their wallets. And last night, the people of Joplin dispatched a team to help the people of Moore.

So for all those who've been affected, we recognize that you face a long road ahead. In some cases, there will be enormous grief that has to be absorbed, but you will not travel that path alone. Your country will travel it with you, fueled by our faith in the Almighty and our faith in one another.

So our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today. And we will back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes.

Thank you very much.

(USA Today)

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