President Biden arrived at the epicenter of Kentucky’s tornado damage on Wednesday to be greeted by jeers of ‘Let’s go Brandon’ before promising to meet the costs of the state’s first 30 days of emergency work.
The greeting, which is supposed to stand in for ‘f**k Joe Biden,’ was a reminder that this corner of Kentucky is deep red, and voted overwhelmingly for former President Donald Trump in the election last year.
But the president paid no attention as he toured a downtown reduced to mounds of rubble and piles of logs by tornadoes five days ago. The death toll in Kentucky stands at 74 – but is expected to rise higher – and another 14 people are reported dead in three other states.
‘Back where I’m from we’re used to hurricanes and floods and high water. But these tornadoes are just something totally different. They devour everything in their path: your homes, your businesses, your houses of worship, dreams or lives,’ Biden observed.
Biden was visiting to see the damage for himself and to offer local leaders any help the needed.
After touring the neighborhood of Dawson Springs, he said he had agreed to meet the state’s emergency costs and promised the federal government would help it get back on its feet.
‘I wasn’t sure I had the authority to do this. But i do,’ he said against a backdrop of homes reduced to matchwood.
‘The government’s going to cover 100 percent of the cost of the first 30 days, all the emergency work… the federal government’s going to take care of it.’
He also spoke of how much harder it was to suffer loss ahead of the holidays – citing the phonecall he got from a first responder when his wife had been killed in a car crash.
‘We also need to recognize that people are suffering mentally and emotionally,’ he said.
President Joe Biden gave a brief speech in Dawson Springs, Kentucky after spending time with residents who lost their homes in Saturday’s storm
Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear (right) introduced President Joe Biden (left) during his tour of tornado destruction Wednesday in Dawson Springs, Kentucky
President Joe Biden hugged a young boy named Dane as he waited for his turn to speak in Dawson Springs, Kentucky Wednesday
President Joe Biden (left) hugged Dane Maddox (right) through Gov. Andy Beshear’s remarks
President Joe Biden speaks to people as he surveys storm damage from tornadoes and extreme weather in Dawson Springs
President Joe Biden (left) waves as he stands with Kentucky’s first lady Britainy Beshear (right) during Wednesday’s tour of the destroyed Dawson Springs
President Joe Biden speaks with Raylie Hall, 12, as he surveys storm damage from tornadoes and extreme weather in Dawson Springs
President Joe Biden speaks with members of the media as he surveys storm damage from tornadoes and extreme weather in Mayfield
‘People talk about post-traumatic stress on the battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq.
‘Well, guess what there’s a lot of post traumatic stress that comes from lying in your house all of a sudden the roof gets blown off and you wonder whether your kids are around.
‘The shock of losing a home or business, the grief of losing someone. It’s happening just before the holiday season. We’re going to make sure you have all the help you need,’ the president said.
As he started his speech, Biden had brought along seven-year-old Dane Maddox to the podium with him.
He had hugged the young boy while being introduced by Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
‘I wanted to introduce a new friend of mine,’ he said of Maddox.
He then proceeded to tell the world that Maddox’s cousin would be graduating from the University of Kentucky on Friday.
‘Come on up here, honey,’ Biden called, bringing up 21-year-old Abby Parker alongside him.
‘I’m sorry to keep you all waiting, but I got a chance to hang out with the whole extended family down there,’ the president continued.
‘Abby is here, and we’re going to figure out something special for her graduation day,’ the president said.
Before delivering his remarks, he met families up and down Alexander Road, who had lost everything.
Dolls legs could be seen sticking out from beneath the remains of trees; a blanket was stuck 40ft up in a tree stripped of its branches; and thick electricity cables lay on the ground, coiled in the rubble.
‘To all the families – keep the faith. We’re going to get this done,’ he said.
He said he was amazed at the way the community had come together and said this kind of tragedy can either bring people together or knock them apart.
‘There’s no red tornadoes and blue tornadoes,’ he told local officials during a briefing in Mayfield, epicenter of the disaster.
For the fifth time since taking office, he was delivering messages of condolence and promises of aid to an area ravaged by natural disaster.
‘I have not seen this much damage from a tornado,’ he said after flying over the affected area.
Thousands of people remain without power, heat or water five days after more than 30 tornadoes ripped through four states.
They killed at least 88 people in four states during a weekend of carnage, tearing down homes and ripping up power lines.
Biden arrived first in Fort Campbell before traveling on to Mayfield and Dawson Springs.
The president was briefed by officials in an aircraft hangar, filled with pallets stacked with Corn Flakes, diapers and toilet rolls, as well as crates of donated cleaning products and canned goods. A Stars and Stripes hung from the roof.
President Joe Biden traveled to western Kentucky on Wednesday where he toured Mayfield, epicenter of Friday’s devastating tornado strikes. He told locals the federal government would not leave until was rebuilt
Biden bowed his head in prayer during his tour of downtown Mayfield where he saw the damage firsthand
Biden and Mayorkas attend a meeting with local leaders and members of Kentucky Emergency Management for a briefing about storm damage from the tornadoes and extreme weather, in Mayfield, Kentucky
An aerial view of a destroyed businesses in Mayfield, Kentucky, on Wednesday
A drone picture of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in the aftermath of the tornado
After the briefing, Biden toured storm ravaged Mayfield and promised help to the people who stood amid the rubble where downtown used to be.
‘We’re not going to leave I promise you. The federal government is going to be here until this gets rebuilt,’ he said after standing head bowed in prayer with three of his guides.
He walked past traffic signals twisted by the strength of the wind and battered Ford Fusion, with its windows blown out.
An office building had lost one side, leaving smashed desk and monitors where staff had once sat. Nearby a handwritten sign said: ‘God is good. Beaten but not defeated.’Off
And the street was edged with mounds of logs where trees used to stand.
Biden, wearing a Beau Biden Foundation cap, said he took hope from the stories he heard from locals.
‘We got 99 billion of damage just this year just this year because of weather and climate change. We’re going to get it done. I’m impressed by the way everyone is working together, I really mean it.
‘Amazing stories I’ve heard, all personal stories – not stories about I lost or I did… about other people and helping other people.’
Mayfield was hardest hit of the Kentucky communities caught in the 200-mile path of twisters that turned buildings to rubble.
Although the Democratic president brought a message of unity to a deep red county – won by Donald Trump by a margin of almost four to one last year – his presence brought out some opponents.
His motorcade passed a Trump 2020 banner as it traveled from the airport and a handful of protesters started up a ‘Let’s go Brandon’ chant as he emerged from his SUV to survey the damage.
President Joe Biden talks to reporters before boarding Marine One for a trip to visit areas impacted by tornado damage
For the fifth time since taking office, he will deliver messages of condolence and promises of aid to an area ravaged by natural disaster
Matt Robertson helps search for possessions around his father’s home after it was destroyed during Friday’s tornado on December 14, 2021 in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several Midwest states late Friday killing at least 88 people
Gov Andy Beshear of Kentucky said the complete scale of destruction won’t be known for days as some homes are impossible to get to
The goal of the trip was to survey damage and ensure the federal government was doing everything possible to help, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on the flight from Washington.
Traveling with the president are Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and GOP Kentucky Rep. James Comer, among other White House officials.
Taking questions from reporters ahead of departure, Biden said there had been ‘some’ progress on his Build Back Better bill after his conversation with key Democratic centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, but it was ‘going to be close’ as to whether Democrats could seal the deal before the end of the year.
And after the House voted Tuesday night to recommend the Department of Justice pursue criminal contempt charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Biden weighed in: ‘I don’t know enough of — just what I’ve seen, I’ve not spoken to anyone, seems to me it is worthy of being held in contempt.
On the eve of his trip, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear offered a sad update on the dead, which included a dozen children, the youngest of whom was a 2-month-old infant.
He said more than 100 people were still missing and that he expected the death toll to rise.
Biden will find a region that has barely started clearing up.
Some desperate families burned the wreckage of their homes to keep warm as temperatures plunged below freezing and authorities said the scale of the damage had made it difficult to even assess what needed to be done.
Jeff and Tara Wilson, a married couple from Mayfield, were at the Graves County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, where a distribution center has been set up to pass out food, water and clothing to storm victims.
They were setting up a mobile site for storm victims to receive counseling and said their home was unscathed.
Biden speaks with a local child on a cell phone as he tours storm damage in Mayfield, Kentucky
After the briefing, Biden toured storm ravaged Mayfield and promised help to the people who stood amid the rubble where downtown used to be
‘We’re not going to leave I promise you. The federal government is going to be here until this gets rebuilt,’ he said after standing head bowed in prayer with three of his guides
Members of the Bowlin family, in Mayfield, Kentucky, light a fire from the wreckage of their home after Friday’s tornadoes cut off heat and electricity in the city. Temperatures drop to near freezing in the night
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said more than 100 people were still missing and that he expected the death toll to rise after dozens of tornadoes left a path of destruction in their wake over the weekend
Asked about the president’s visit and the reception he’ll receive in this 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 visiting, and she and her husband expressed hope the president might help unite the community.
‘This place is like a bomb has been dropped on it. And everyone needs to come together,’ Wilson said. ‘So far that’s what’s happening. You’re seeing everyone pull together.’
Biden’s trip comes at the close of a year marked by an uptick in extreme weather events driven primarily by climate change.
Only a month after he was sworn into office, Biden went to Houston to survey the damage wrought by last winter’s historic storm there. He then traveled to Idaho, Colorado and California to survey wildfire damage during the summer, as well as Louisiana, New Jersey and New York earlier this fall after Hurricane Ida tore through the region.
The disasters have offered Biden urgent and visceral evidence of what he says is the dire 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.
But on Wednesday, Biden’s focus will be squarely on Kentucky. Five twisters hit the state, including one with an extraordinarily long path of about 200 miles (322 kilometers), authorities said.
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.
The president signed two federal disaster declarations for Kentucky over the weekend, providing federal aid for search and rescue and cleanup operations, as well as aid for temporary housing and to help individuals and businesses recover.
Biden said earlier this week during a White House briefing on the tragedy with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other top emergency response officials that the federal government is committed to providing whatever the affected states need in the aftermath of the storm.
‘We’re going to get this done,’ Biden said. ‘We’re going to be there as long as it takes to help.’