Washington (CNN) – Describing the tornado that swept across the Oklahoma plains as “one of the most destructive storms in history,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday the state “needs to get everything it needs right away” to recover from the devastating twister.
The president, speaking from the State Dining Room at the White House, said he doesn’t yet know the “full extent” of the damage or the “human and economic losses that may have occurred.”
Dozens of people – including several children – were killed when the massive tornado struck an area outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, officials said.
At least seven of the children killed were at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, according to a police official.
While the total magnitude of the storm’s damage is unknown, the president pledged the country’s resources as the community seeks to rebuild.
“The people of Moore, [Oklahoma] should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes,” he said. “There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and bedrooms and classrooms and in time we’re going to need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community.”
Obama signed a disaster declaration for Oklahoma late Monday night, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. The declaration makes federal funding available to the counties of Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie.
Funds can go towards grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs, the White House said. State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations can also use some of the money in those counties.
“For all those who’ve been affected, we recognize that you face a long road ahead. In some cases, there will be enormous grief that has to be absorbed. But you will not travel that path alone. Your country will travel it with you fueled by our faith in the almighty and our faith in one another. So our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today,” he said. “And we will back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes.”
Obama is receiving ongoing briefings about the recovery efforts from Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco and other senior members, according to the White House.
Obama told Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin Monday the resources of the federal government stand ready to assist her state as it recovers from the powerful set of storms that pounded an area near Oklahoma City Monday.
House Speaker John Boehner faced questions in a press conference Tuesday over how Congress will respond in support of federal aid efforts, given some in the GOP’s resistance to robustly backing previous relief legislation without cutting spending elsewhere.
“We’ll work with the administration on making sure they have the resources they need to help the people of Oklahoma,” said an emotional House Speaker John Boehner.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed an incident team to the state, Obama told Fallin, and more federal resources are on standby as the extent of the damage becomes clearer.