- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Calling the devastating tornadoes that leveled parts of Moore, Okla., Monday some of the most destructive in history, President Obama pledged to devote all the resources available for as long as needed to assist those who have lost homes and loved ones.

“Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today,” Mr. Obama said in solemn remarks in the White House’s East Room, “and the teachers who shielded their students…and all of those who, when darkness fell, searched for survivors throughout the night.”

At least 24 people, including many children, were among the confirmed victims of the massive tornado that roared through the suburbs of Oklahoma City Monday, tearing up entire city blocks and leaving behind miles of splintered homes and businesses, as well as shattered lives. Officials have warned that the death toll is likely to climb, making it one of the most deadly tornadoes in U.S. history.

As many as 91 people are feared dead, local affiliate KFOR reported.

Mr. Obama said he spoke to Oklahoma Gov. Fallin as well as Moore Mayor Lewis and made it clear to Oklahomans that they would have “all the resources they need” to support the governor’s team in the immediate response. FEMA already started deploying resources to the area Sunday and Monday, including search and rescue teams from Nebraska, Texas and Tennessee, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is headed to the Oklahoma “as we speak,” the president said.

“The people of Moore should know their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them as long as it takes for their homes and schools to rebuild,” he said, later adding “we are a nation that stands with our fellow citizens for as long as it takes.”

Although Mr. Obama acknowledged that it’s impossible to know the full extent of the damage of the storm right away, he said he will continue to receive updates as he did overnight.

He declared a Major Disaster Declaration for the state overnight, which will make federal funding available to support individuals, as well as additional federal assistance to support immediate response and recovery efforts. He thanked the Red Cross for stepping in quickly to open a shelter, as well as the University of Oklahoma, which opened some of its housing to displaced families.

Referencing a tornado that hit Joplin, Mo. Nearly two years ago, virtually wiping it off the map and killing 158 people, Mr. Obama also thanked Joplin city officials who said Monday they were sending a tea of 10 officers and three firefighters to Moore to help.

Beginning yesterday, FEMA deployed additional resources including:

• An Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to the state emergency operations center in Oklahoma City to coordinate with state and local officials in support of recovery operations.

• Three national Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Teams and an additional Incident Support Team have been activated to support the immediate response efforts.

• A Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) Team is in Oklahoma to provide self-sustaining telecommunications, logistics, and operations support elements, to assist in the immediate response needs.

• Preliminary damage assessment (PDA) teams are on the ground and will begin assessments today, which will assist the state in identifying additional eligible federal assistance that may be warranted.

• Three Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams are scheduled to arrive later today to help impacted residents register for disaster assistance. Survivors can register for assistance right now by calling 1-800-621-3362 or by going to disasterassistance.gov.

Following the Major Disaster Declaration, additional resources beyond these immediate assets will also be available to support response and recovery efforts, including for affected individuals and small business, the official said.

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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