US federal officials vowed urgent support on Sunday for a region devastated by the deadliest US natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina, even as they acknowledged recovery would not be quick or easy.
US President Barack Obama’s administration is trying to show an effective response to the storms and twisters that killed about 350 people last week in seven southern states, reduced neighborhoods to rubble and caused damage expected to run into billions of dollars.
Obama visited Alabama on Friday and US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the administrator of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Craig Fugate, toured damage on Sunday.
“I don’t think words can fairly express the level of devastation here. I am not articulate enough,” Napolitano said after seeing how killer storm winds had torn through Pratt City, Alabama.
Later in Smithville, Mississippi, Napolitano said the visit had offered an acute sense of urgency about the need to help communities “come to grips and recover” from the disaster.
“This is not going to be a quick comeback or an immediate one but it will be, in my view, a complete one when all is said and done,” she said.
The Republican governors of Alabama and Mississippi both spoke highly of Washington’s response to the latest disaster.
“When you see local, state and federal people cooperating like this, it really makes a difference,” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said on CBS’ Face the Nation program.
Alabama was the worst hit state in last week’s storms, with 250 people killed. Elsewhere, 101 people died in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Louisiana.
About 1,700 people were injured in Alabama alone and others were missing after tornadoes crushed homes, flipped cars upside down and tore children from their parents’ arms.
To help people get back on their feet, the US Department of Agriculture will make homes in rural areas available for rent, Vilsack said.
The US Small Business Administration said it would make loans of up to US$200,000 available to homeowners and up to US$2 million for small businesses.
FBI officers, FEMA officials, state troopers, police, sheriffs, firefighters and officials of the US Fish and Wildlife service worked with many local volunteers to clear roads and debris on Saturday.