A day after tornadoes tore through the South, President Obama is taking care to respond swiftly and publicly. His actions come just over one year after he was criticized for not displaying enough "anger" over another disaster affecting the region, BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
News outlets are reporting more than 250 dead after twisters touched down in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky. Alabama suffered the most severe losses, with a death toll of at least 162. Dozens of tornadoes like these struck Wednesday afternoon and evening:
The White House announced that Obama will travel to Alabama on Friday to meet with state and local officials and residents. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate has already traveled to the state to meet with Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and others. The two held a conference call with reporters Thursday morning.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce his choices to head the CIA, the Department of Defense, and U.S. leadership in Afghanistan, Obama pledged to do all he could to help tornado-stricken areas. Wednesday night, he signed a federal disaster declaration for Alabama and issued this statement about the storms, after speaking at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser earlier in the night without mentioning the tornadoes:
Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives because of the tornadoes that have swept through Alabama and the southeastern United States. Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster. I just spoke to Governor Bentley and told him that I have ordered the Federal Government to move quickly in our response and informed him that I approved his request for emergency Federal assistance, including search and rescue assets. While we may not know the extent of the damage for days, we will continue to monitor these severe storms across the country and stand ready to continue to help the people of Alabama and all citizens affected by these storms.
Alabama is a Republican stronghold that overwhelmingly supported John McCain in 2008 (60 percent to 39 percent), and which gained a Republican in its congressional delegation in 2010. A Harvard Law School classmate and early campaign supporter of Obama, former Rep. Artur Davis (D), sought to become the state's first black governor in 2010, but lost by a landslide in the Democratic primary.
After the BP oil spill, the Obama administration's seemingly slow response drew some comparisons to President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina -- although it was clear that the administration did not know, at first, how much oil would spill into the Gulf and how difficult it would prove to plug the Macondo well. Obama first traveled to the Gulf on May 2, a week and a half after the spill, then returned May 28 to survey cleanup efforts after it became clear that the spill would be the worst in U.S. history.