Biden sees firsthand tornado toll across Kentucky landscape
Mayfield, Ky. – Surveying storm damage from the Kentucky sky, President Joe Biden on Wednesday saw neighborhoods pockmarked by piles of debris and homes without roofs and windows, evidence of the latest natural disaster in a year that has brought him to devastated communities across the nation to offer support and condolences.
From a helicopter over the town of Mayfield, Biden could observe firsthand the toll from last weekend’s deadly tornadoes. More than 30 tornadoes tore through Kentucky and seven other states, killing at least 88 people. Thousands of residents have lost their homes or are without power.
After his aerial tour, the president told local officials at an airport briefing, “I’m here to listen.” He pledged that federal aid would continue to flow and described the tornado damage as some of the worst he had ever seen. Biden said this kind of tragedy “either brings people together or it knocks them apart.”
“There’s no red tornadoes and blue tornadoes,” he said.
Michelle Anderson, 68, who took cover in her bathtub with her cat when the tornado ripped the roof off the second floor of her apartment building, hoped to catch Biden in Mayfield.
“I want to see if he’s going to help individuals who have been affected by this,” she said. “I hope he does.”
Joining the president were Homeland Secretary Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, federal disaster agency head Deanne Criswell and Gov. Andy Beshear.
While congressional business kept him in Washington during the tour, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leader has spoken about his appreciation for Biden’s response to the disaster. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she is talking to Kentucky lawmakers about what’ is needed for the state – a nod to a possible disaster relief bill with supplemental funds for recovery.
Jeff and Tara Wilson, a married couple from Mayfield, were at the Graves County Fairgrounds the day before, where food, water and clothing are being passed out. The Wilsons, who said said their home was unscathed, were setting up a mobile site for storm victims to receive counseling.
Asked about Biden’s visit and the reception he may find in a prominently Republican region, Tara Wilson replied: “Don’t know. I think that as long as everybody’s hearts are in the right place, we need to not focus on politics right now.” She said it was a “very positive thing” that Biden was coming, and she and her husband expressed hope the president might help unite the community.
Across the United States, it’s been a year marked by a notable increase in extreme weather occurrences driven primarily by climate change. Only a month after he was sworn into office, Biden went to Houston to survey the damage wrought by a historic storm. He was in Idaho, Colorado and California to survey wildfire damage during the summer. After Hurricane Ida struck, Biden went to Louisiana as well as New Jersey and New York in September.
The disasters have offered Biden evidence of what he says is the pressing need for America to do more to combat climate change and prepare for future disasters – a case he made to help push for passage of his spending proposals.
The $1 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law last month, includes billions for climate resilience projects aimed to better defend people and property from future storms, wildfires and other natural disasters. His proposed $2 trillion social spending package, still pending in Congress, includes billions more to help shift the nation away from oil, gas and coal and toward widespread clean energy and electric vehicle use.
The White House has spent much of the week engaging with lawmakers on the latter. Biden talked with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democratic holdout, in hopes of smoothing over some of his issues in time to pass a package before year’s end.
Five tornadoes hit Kentucky, including one with an extraordinarily long path of about 200 miles (322 kilometers), authorities said.
Besides the deaths in Kentucky, the tornadoes also killed at least six people in Illinois, where the Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed and the governor said workers shielded residents with their own bodies; and two in Missouri.
Associated Press writers Sean Murphy and Bruce Schreiner in Mayfield, Kentucky, contributed to this report.