MOORE — President Barack Obama came to Oklahoma on Sunday to comfort grieving families, laud the work of emergency responders and offer assurances that the nation stands ready to assist with recovery from last week's deadly tornadoes.
“I want to make sure everybody understands I'm speaking on behalf of the entire country,” Obama said during a brief stop at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died when a wall collapsed on top of them during the May 20 tornado.
“Everywhere, fellow Americans are praying with you, they're thinking about you and they want to help. And so I'm just the messenger here today, letting everybody here know that you are not alone, that you've got folks behind you.”
Obama tours damage
The president spent about three hours in the area after landing at Tinker Air Force Base shortly before noon, seven days after the first of several tornadoes that killed 26, destroyed hundreds of homes and caused damage in excess of $2 billion.
He descended the stairs of Air Force One and was greeted by Gov. Mary Fallin, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and several other local officials.
He spoke briefly at a rope line on the tarmac with several Tinker employees, both military and civilian, whose off-base homes were damaged or destroyed by the tornadoes.
From the base, the president's motorcade drove 20 minutes to Moore, scene of some of the worst destruction.
Along the route, people lined the roadways, many waving small American flags and taking photographs. The vehicles stopped on Eagle Drive.
The president walked grim-faced for about a block along a street of utter devastation with debris piles, some 20 feet high, as far as the eye could see. He was accompanied by Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis and other officials.
The entourage made its way to Plaza Towers school where the president, his white-shirt sleeves rolled up, first gave a long hug to Principal Amy Simpson and spoke with her for several minutes.
He also talked with Moore School Superintendent Suzy Pierce, Shelley Jaques-McMillin, principal of Briarwood Elementary, which also was badly damaged, and several others, including Scott Lewis, who was able to get his son, Zachary, out of school and into a storm shelter in the nick of time.
“He just wanted to speak to the boy and tell him how brave he was,” Lewis said.
“Told us everything will be OK. And he reassured us. We told him how great FEMA was and the first responders.”
The president then took a brief tour of the school site and afterward said the damage was hard to comprehend.