DAWSON SPRINGS, Ky. (Reuters) -President Joe Biden walked through the battered remains of two Kentucky cities on Wednesday to get a first-hand view of the destruction wrought by one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in recent U.S. history.
The disaster, which killed at least 74 people in Kentucky and 14 elsewhere, has thrown Biden into his familiar role as consoler-in-chief. He promised to bring the might of the federal government to rebuild devastated communities https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/a-town-destroyed-the-grim-aftermath-in-t-idUSRTS3RB7Y that suffered billions of dollars in damage.
Wearing hiking boots, a ball cap and a black mask, Biden walked through hard-hit cities, Mayfield and Dawson Springs, Kentucky, hugging survivors as he went along.
“Don’t hesitate to ask for anything,” Biden said in Mayfield, while noting “there’s no red tornadoes, there’s no blue tornadoes,” referring to the colors associated with Democrats and Republicans.
As the day progressed, Biden walked past scene after scene of the tornado’s rampage, including dozens of buildings that were reduced to rubble.
In Mayfield, he stopped to chat with a woman who was sitting on a pile of bricks. He and his entourage paused to pray in the middle of a street. He told faith-based groups helping out that “You’re doing God’s work.”
In Dawson Springs, Biden stood in front of a blown-out building and noted it was known as a place to go for its healing mineral waters.
“Now it’s our turn to help the entire town to heal,” he said.
The “scope and scale of destruction is almost beyond belief,” Biden said. He said he wanted to come back to Dawson Springs to get a meal cooked by a woman he met.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, who joined Biden for the day of touring, said federal authorities have been deeply engaged in on-the-ground efforts.
“We’ve gone from looking for our dead to hauling away the death and destruction around us,” he said.
Beshear has said the dead included a dozen children https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-weather-tornadoes-idAFL1N2SZ28D and that he expected the death toll to rise in the coming days, with more than 100 still missing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent search-and-rescue and emergency response teams to Kentucky, along with teams to help survivors register for assistance.
FEMA has also sent dozens of generators into the state, along with 135,000 gallons (511,000 litres) of water, 74,000 meals and thousands of cots, blankets, infant toddler kits and pandemic shelter kits.
Mayfield was the hardest hit of several western Kentucky communities in the 200-mile (320-km) path of a twister that turned cities into piles of debris that are now being hauled away by work crews and National Guard troops.
The city of 10,000 is under a boil-water order and accounts for more than one-third of the state’s 14,000 power outages. City Council member Jana Adams said it would take seven to 10 days for crews to resurrect utility poles and hook up transmission lines.
“We have linemen from all over the country here going out in the field and setting poles and running lines for us,” Adams, who is also on the board of the local electric and water utility, told CNN.
Biden has approved federal disaster declarations for Kentucky and the neighboring states of Tennessee and Illinois, offering residents and local officials increased federal aid.
Credit ratings agency DBRS Morningstar said the tornadoes were likely the most severe in the United States since 2011. Insurers are sufficiently prepared to cover claims without significant capital impact, it said in a report.
The trip marks one of the few that Biden, a Democrat, has taken to areas that tilt heavily toward the Republican Party, many of whose voters and leaders have embraced https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/POLLING/byprjqmdjpe/republican Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims that he won the 2020 election.
The White House has been careful not to bring politics into the disaster relief efforts, including not focusing on what role, if any, climate change may have played in the tragic events.
Even as the president toured the destruction in Mayfield, there were small shouts of “Let’s go Brandon,” an anti-Biden slogan.
Biden is no stranger to tragic personal loss. He lost his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash, and his older son, Beau, died in 2015 after a fight with brain cancer.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Fort Campbell, Kentucky; additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Rod Nickel; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons, Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)