The First Family’s journey to Florida on Friday will take a slight detour to Alabama. They will tour the storm-ravaged area that was hit with a major blow from tornadoes on Wednesday.
Of the 305 people that lost their lives on Wednesday and early Thursday, 204 were in Alabama, 34 in Tennessee, 33 in Mississippi, 14 in Georgia and 12 in Arkansas. An additional eight deaths were in Virginia, Louisiana, and Kentucky combined. Over one million people were left without power in the region, according to estimates. The National Weather Service has confirmed at least 137 tornadoes were responsible for the damage across the Deep South.
Alabama was by far the hardest-hit state in the storms this week. The well-populated cities of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham took direct hits from the storm, as well as other areas of northern Alabama. Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency and authorized 1,400 Alabama National Guardsmen to assist with rescue efforts.
President Obama spoke about the devastating tragedy from the White House on Thursday.
“In a matter of hours, these deadly tornadoes … took mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, even entire communities,” Obama said from the East Room.
“Others are injured, and some are still missing, and in many places, the damage to homes and businesses is nothing short of catastrophic. We can’t control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it,” the president added.
The president also reiterated the federal government’s commitment to support local communities as they rebound from the tragedy.
“The federal government will do everything we can to help you recover, and we will stand with you as you rebuild,” he stated.
President Obama signed a federal disaster declaration for portions of Alabama on Thursday, giving victims access to federal aid. The counties included were Cullman, DeKalb, Franklin, Jefferson, Lawrence, Marshall, Tuscaloosa and Walker. They will be eligible for grants to cover temporary housing and repairs. They can also receive low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
After meeting with Governor Bentley and touring some of the affected areas in Tuscaloosa, the president and his family will head to Florida.
They will visit the Cape Canaveral Space Center near Orlando to watch today’s launch of the space shuttle Endeavor. Later in the day, the president will travel to Miami to deliver the commencement address at Miami Dade College. He returns to Washington, D.C. late tonight.