Obama: 'Our full focus is on the urgent work of rescue' in Oklahoma

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 20, 2013 

Recovery operations continue Tuesday morning after a tornado, reported to be a mile wide, touched down in Moore, Oklahoma on Monday, leveling Plaza Towers Elementary School and killing some of the children inside. The death toll has been revised down from a high of 91 to 24, including at least seven children.

President Obama has declared parts of the state a disaster, and FEMA is providing support. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate headed to Oklahoma Tuesday morning.

The President gave a statement to the nation at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

"In an instant, neighborhoods were destroyed, dozens of people lost their lives, many more were injured and among the victims were young children trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew: their school," said Obama in brief televised remarks. "There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and classrooms and bedrooms. In time we need to rebuild those spaces with laughter and love and community."

Congress is observing a moment of silence in honor of the victims, while the flag at the U.S. Capitol flew at half-staff. In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner said, “Our hearts and our prayers go out to those in Oklahoma who have been victimized by this storm, especially our colleague Tom Cole. Moore, Oklahoma is his hometown, so obviously he’s there."

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reflected on the past in remarks delivered on the Senate floor. "I remember full well a tornado that went through my hometown of Louisville back in the 1970's, knocked down every house on the street of my parents. My mother was in the basement and mercifully it skipped over our house for some reason but leveled all the houses across the street and ones next door," he said.

“So it's really hard to accurately describe the devastation a storm like this leaves in its wake. And as first responders continue to dig through the rubble and more, I fear we'll hear a lot more bad news in the days ahead. That said, I’m sure we'll also hear stories of hope and self-sacrifice, as we almost always do when tragedies like this strike.

“Strangers shielding strangers, neighbors helping others rebuild, volunteers working through the night to sift through the debris to find survivors. As we've seen time and time again, Americans are at their best when called upon to help each other in tragic circumstances, and this circumstance could hardly be more tragic."

Photos and video from Oklahoma show heartbreak and heroism in the wake of the storm:

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