By Jordan Fabian - 04/29/11 04:37 PM EDT
President Obama arrived in Alabama on Friday to survey the damage from a series of tornadoes that killed at least 300 people.
“I've never seen devastation like this,” Obama said after touring areas of Tuscaloosa, Ala., according to the press pool report.
After meeting with a family on a street affected by the storms, Obama promised that the federal government would offer its “maximum” help to the area.
The president surveyed one area of the city that contained felled trees, buildings with their roofs ripped off, destroyed homes and cars in pieces.
Obama spent 15 minutes visiting an elementary school in the area that is being used to distribute aid supplies.
The president and first lady spoke with several students and city residents, and the president told the school’s principal, “Thank you for helping, I'm glad you're OK.”
Despite the damage, several hundred people lined Obama’s motorcade route, including many who waved and held American flags, according to a White House pool report.
Over 300 people have been killed and thousands were wounded due to a maelstrom of tornadoes, high winds and hail that hit areas of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. The storms also caused billions of dollars in property damage.
All told, the severe weather created the worst U.S. natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, during which approximately 1,800 people were killed.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate has said that the series of storms could rank as “one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history.”
The president and first lady Michelle Obama landed in Tuscaloosa on Friday morning, where they were greeted by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R), the state’s two GOP senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, and the mayors of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
White House press secretary Jay Carney stressed that Obama wanted to witness the damage firsthand and speak to officials on the ground.
“He wants to witness for himself the terrible devastation from these storms,” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Alabama.
Obama has worked to appear responsive in the wake of the disaster, in part to avoid the pitfalls that defined former President George W. Bush’s response to Katrina, which severely damaged his public standing.
The president has been coordinating with FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security and officials in Alabama since Wednesday, declaring a state of emergency to authorize federal resources and emergency response teams to assist in the response.
Obama dispatched Fugate to Alabama on Thursday before announcing his own visit and canceling his appearance with the BCS national champion Auburn University football team at the White House.
The president was scheduled to fly from Alabama to Cape Canaveral, Fla., later in the afternoon, though NASA announced Friday that the launch would be delayed for 42 hours.
This post was updated at 2:20 p.m.