Obama visits tornado-hit Oklahoma city
US President Barack Obama visited tornado-devastated Moore, in southwest central state Oklahoma, consoling people staggered by the loss of life and property and promising that the government will be behind them "every step of the way".
The powerful twister that struck Moore was known as an EF5, ranking it at the top of the enhanced Fujita scale used to measure tornado strength.
"I'm just a messenger here," the president said on Sunday, saying "folks are behind you" across America. He offered moral and monetary support in the wake of the monstrous tornado that killed 24 people, including 10 children, last week.
Standing with Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin and other officials, Obama noted the substantial rebuilding job ahead and said "our hearts go out to you".
The White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already provided US$57 million in rebates and incentives to help build about 12,000 storm shelters in Oklahoma. "These storm shelters can be the difference between life and death," presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said.
For Obama, the visit had an all-too-familiar ring.
Only five months into his second term, he has travelled to the northeast to console people in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, and visited Connecticut and Arizona to comfort people traumatised by shooting rampages. He also has undertaken his consoler-in-chief role at the site of plant explosions and mine disasters, not to mention a series of natural disasters including Joplin, Missouri, which was hit by a tornado, and the Jersey Shore, which was heavily damaged by Super-storm Sandy last year.
Obama urged the American people to make contributions, saying the damage was "pretty hard to comprehend".
Obama also rode past grassy fields strewn with scattered debris, witnessing devastation so terrible that it appeared as if garbage had rained from the sky. His first stop was the demolished site of the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven students were killed.
"I know this is tough," he told superintendent Susie Pierce as he gripped her hand. As he walked, the demolished school was on his left and on his right, homes as far as the eye could see were reduced to piles of rubble. Vehicles were turned upside down and toys such as a pink doll carriage and children's books were strewn with furniture and ripped-out wall insulation.
Obama at one point joined the Lewis family, which lost their home behind the school.
"What a mess," he told their son Zack, a third grader at the school. Zack's father, Scott, rushed into the school just before the storm hit and took his terrified son to their home's shelter.
"You've got some story to tell," Obama told the boy. "This is something you'll remember all your life."