(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
A week after tornadoes tore through Oklahoma and devastated the town of Moore, President Obama toured the area Sunday and urged all Americans to "step up" their own aid to help the affected people in recognition that "we're an instrument of his [God's] will."
Calling the devastation "pretty hard to comprehend," Obama reminded the people of Oklahoma, "Everywhere, fellow Americans are praying with you, they're thinking about you, and they want to help... And so I'm just a messenger here today, letting everybody here know that you are not alone, that you've got folks behind you."
It's not just a government response, the president said, and praised churches and community groups for "incredible outpourings of support," according to a press release by the White House.
The Salvation Army has collected $5 million since last Monday, when the tornado in Moore – the most powerful of the dozens of twisters that touched down in several states – killed 24 people, including 9 children, injured 377 others and damaging roughly 12,000 homes, of which 1,200 were demolished, according to NBC News.
"I want to urge every American to step up. If I've got one message for folks here today: Go online, donate to the American Red Cross…," Obama said, and recalled a story "that really struck me in the press." It was about a Bible, open to Isaiah 32:2, that was found in the rubble. The verse read, "A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest."
"And it's a reminder, as Scripture often is, that God has a plan, and it's important, though, that we also recognize we're an instrument of his will," Obama said. "And we need to know that as fellow Americans, we're going to be there as shelter from the storm for the people of Moore who have been impacted."
Disaster-modeling company Eqecat estimates that the tornado caused $2 billion to $5 billion in insured losses.
"Obviously, a picture is worth a thousand words, and what we're seeing here I think gives you some sense of what the people of Moore and the people of Oklahoma have been dealing with over these last several days," the president said.
Obama thanked Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Mayor Glenn Lewis of Moore for their quick, outstanding response. He also praised the forecasters who issued the warnings, the first responders who dug through the rubble, the teachers who shielded with their own bodies their students, and said, "Oklahomans have inspired us with their love and their courage and their fellowship."
The president called Oklahoma "a strong community with strong character." "There's no doubt they're going to bounce back… It's going to take a long time for this community to rebuild."
Obama said Moore will "come back stronger from this tragedy. Your mayor said that you're already printing new street signs. And I want folks affected throughout Oklahoma to know that we're going to be with you every step of the way… And when we say that we've got your back, I promise you, we keep our word."
After the president's visit, First Baptist Church of Moore held a memorial service. "We choose not to walk as victims, Lord," the Los Angeles Times quoted Dennis Jernigan, the church's worship leader as saying.
Some churches that had been destroyed in the tornado held services in the open.