Biden surveys Kentucky tornado damage: ‘I intend to do whatever it takes’
President Biden on Wednesday said the federal government will “do whatever it takes” to rebuild Kentucky after deadly tornadoes ripped across it and other states this weekend.
“I intend to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, as long as it takes to support your state, your local leaders, as you recover and rebuild. Because you will recover and you will rebuild,” Biden said in Dawson Springs after surveying damage and speaking with local leaders and those on the ground.
“I promise you, you’re going to heal. We’re going to recover, we’re going to rebuild. You’re going to be stronger than you were before. We’re going to build back better than it was,” he said.
“Keep the faith, we’re going to get this done,” he added. “We’re in this for the long haul.”
During his trip, Biden amended the major disaster declaration he issued on Sunday to increase federal funds for debris removal and emergency protective measures from 75 to 100 percent of the total eligible costs for a 30-day period from the date of declaration.
Biden acknowledged that he wasn’t sure he had the authority to approve that particular request.
“That will get you through,” Biden said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) praised Biden for the move.
“I’m so thankful the president that just said ‘yes’ to every ask we made, … one that I thought there was no way that we could get a ‘yes’ to. It’s going to mean the federal government isn’t just here, isn’t just doing things we’ve never seen before, but is fully behind every single family that has suffered any loss,” Beshear said.
The governor, getting emotional and with his voice cracking, said that he never thought in his life he would introduce the president, and that he wished it were under different circumstances.
“Your forbearance is commendable. This has to be an emotional moment for you, the family,” Biden told Beshear.
The tornadoes in Kentucky and five other states have killed at least 88 people, including 74 in Kentucky alone.
At the commonwealth’s request, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing generators, 144,000 liters of drinking water, 74,000 meals and thousands of cots and blankets, Biden said.
“A lot of hard work is going to happen in the next two and three months to bring it all the way,” he said.
Biden revisited his familiar consoler in chief role in Kentucky, one he has taken on while visiting other areas damaged by extreme weather over the past year.
“Those who have lost someone — there’s no words for the pain of losing someone. A lot of us know it, a lot of us understand it, especially around the holidays when everything’s supposed to be happy and joyful,” he said.
The president said it was also around the holidays when he found out his first wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, adding that the car that hit them had a Christmas tree on top.
Biden also spoke about the post-traumatic stress of losing a house, business or loved one, and he said mental health support will be provided to those in need.
While addressing reporters, he introduced a young boy and his cousin who will graduate from University of Kentucky on Friday, saying they were some of the people he met on his tour.
He also touted the toy drive Kentucky first lady Britainy Beshear launched, which has brought in 20,000 donations and has three more days to go.
Biden’s first stop on Wednesday was in Mayfield, Ky., where he surveyed storm damage and received a briefing from local leaders along with Beshear, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
“I’m here to listen. I think the vast majority of Americans know what you’ve been through just watching on television,” he said during the briefing inside a hanger at Mayfield Graves County Airport.
Biden said he has been impressed by how everyone has been working together in the wake of the tragedy and that the community reminds him of ones in his home state of Delaware.
“There’s no red tornadoes, there’s no blue tornadoes,” Biden said.
While he toured the damage in Mayfield, he stopped to pray in the middle of the street and to talk to a woman sitting among a pile of rubble.
“I’m impressed how everyone’s working together,” Biden later said when asked about what he had seen, adding that the government would continue to help for weeks and months to come.
Faith-based groups have been helping with disaster relief in different areas hit by the tornadoes since earlier this week.
“I say thank you. You’re doing God’s work,” Biden said when asked what he’d say to these groups.
When the president later arrived in Dawson Springs, a family with a baby and toddler watched the motorcade from the stoop of a home, which was the only part of it still standing.
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