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Touring Kentucky, Biden vows ‘whatever it takes’ to recover from storms


President Joe Biden, third from left, speaks with people among the rubble of destroyed buildings as he tours tornado damage in Mayfield, Ky. on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

By Jim Tankersley


President Joe Biden flew to Kentucky earlier this week to survey the damage wrought by a series of deadly tornadoes last weekend, reprising a role comforting disaster victims that has become a staple of his presidency and promising that the federal government would cover the full cost of emergency response efforts for the next month.


Biden walked the storms’ paths of destruction in a pair of communities in the southeastern corner of the state, past entire blocks of buildings leveled by the high winds. He hugged survivors and promised that his administration would partner in relief efforts until residents and business owners could fully rebuild, describing the devastation as “almost beyond belief.”


“I intend to do whatever it takes,” Biden said in brief remarks from an intersection in battered Dawson Springs, Kentucky, “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.”


The president said he had amended a disaster declaration for Kentucky to have the federal government cover the entire cost of debris removal and overtime for law enforcement and emergency personnel for the next 30 days. He said federal officials were helping to provide electricity, search-and-rescue assistance and shelters for victims, along with mental health services for those traumatized by the experience.


It was an all-too-familiar routine for Biden, who said on Wednesday that disasters related to extreme weather and climate change had inflicted $99 billion of damage on the United States this year. The president has made several similar trips to disaster areas since taking office in January. He has visited with victims of hurricanes and extreme storms on the Gulf Coast and in the New York area, and with victims of wildfires in the West.


In each case, Biden has tried to reassure residents that the federal government was working hard to speed recovery efforts, while comforting people who have suffered major losses.


He drew effusive thanks on Wednesday from Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat who said Biden had called him personally three times on the day the tornadoes ripped through a 200-mile swath of the state, killing scores of people and leaving more than 1,000 families homeless or with severe damage to repair.


The governor accompanied Biden on a tour Wednesday of Kentucky’s hardest-hit areas. In the late morning, Biden took in an aerial view of the town of Mayfield, seeing broken tree trunks and wrecked homes from the windows of his helicopter. He then landed to inspect the damage on the ground, where he was briefed by local officials.


At the briefing, Biden told a group of government officials that the communities in Kentucky reminded him of his home state of Delaware, and that he was impressed by people working together in the face of tragedy, regardless of a political divide.


“There’s no red tornadoes,” Biden said. “There’s no blue tornadoes.”


As Biden surveyed the devastation in Mayfield, the mood felt a lot less hectic but still somber.


The biggest chunks of debris, including enormous tree trunks, have been hauled off the roads and out of the city, leaving neat piles of rubble and empty shells of ravaged homes behind.


In the afternoon, Biden toured a neighborhood in Dawson Springs, a small town that is the birthplace of Beshear’s father, Steve, a former governor who also accompanied the president on his tours.


As the president entered town, a family, including a baby and a toddler, watched from a stoop that was the only part of their home left standing from the storm. Biden walked past utility crews and other rebuilding teams, pausing to talk with law enforcement officials and residents. He began his remarks by introducing a young boy he had just met and his older sister, who was set to graduate from the University of Kentucky this month.


“I’ve been involved in responding to a lot of disasters,” Biden said, “and you can see in people’s faces, what they’re really looking for — and look around, I say to the press — what they’re looking for is just to be able to put their head down on the pillow, be able to close their eyes. Take a deep breath, go to sleep and make sure their kids are OK. That’s what people are looking for right now.”


“A lot of hard work is going to happen the next two and three months to bring it all the way back.”

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