US President Joe Biden has pledged to do “whatever it takes, as long as it takes” to help Kentucky and other US states struggling in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes that killed dozens of people and left thousands more without heat, water or electricity.
Biden on Wednesday toured hardest-hit Kentucky – where a slew of weekend storms killed at least 74 people, including several children – to survey the damage and offer his condolences.
He landed at an army installation at Fort Campbell and boarded a helicopter to assess the devastation, before heading to Mayfield and Dawson Springs – two Kentucky towns that were largely flattened by the twisters – to meet community leaders and residents.
“The scope and scale of this destruction is almost beyond belief,” he said during a speech in Dawson Springs on Wednesday afternoon. “These tornadoes devoured everything in their path.”
Biden pledged that federal aid would continue to flow to fund emergency assistance and help rebuild infrastructure. “I’m going to make sure the federal government does what’s needed,” he said.
“I intend to do whatever it takes as long as it takes to support your state, your local leaders, as you recover and rebuild – and you will recover and rebuild.”
More than 30 tornadoes tore through Kentucky and at least four other states in the central United States over the weekend, killing at least 88 people and demolishing homes, downing power lines and cutting off residents from key utilities as temperatures dropped below freezing point.
Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Mayfield on Wednesday morning, said “destruction stretches as far as the eye can see” in the community’s downtown core. “This is one of many communities that were simply levelled by this disaster,” she said.
“There have been so many stories of heroism … People running into the rubble, fishing out neighbours, families and friends. The way that this community has come together in the wake of this tragedy has been remarkable, with volunteers coming in from all parts of the state and surrounding areas.”
Biden’s trip to Kentucky came after a year marked by a notable uptick in extreme weather occurrences that scientists say were driven primarily by climate change.
Shortly after taking office, Biden went to Houston to survey the damage wrought by last winter’s historic storm there. Over the summer, he travelled to Idaho, Colorado and California to survey wildfire damage. Later, he went to Louisiana, New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Ida tore through the area.
The disasters have offered Biden urgent evidence of what he says is the dire need for the US to do more to combat climate change and prepare for future disasters.
Last month, Biden signed into law a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that included billions for climate resilience projects aimed to better defend people and property from future storms, wildfires and other natural disasters.
Meanwhile, back in Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear said earlier this week that a dozen children, the youngest of whom was a two-month-old infant, were among the storm-linked deaths.
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, the White House said.
Biden earlier approved two federal disaster declarations for Kentucky and the neighbouring states of Tennessee and Illinois, providing federal aid for search and rescue and clean-up operations, as well as aid for temporary housing and to help individuals and businesses recover.