As he toured the area and surveyed the extensive damage, Obama reminded Oklahoma officials that he was speaking on behalf of the entire nation.
“As fellow Americans, we’re going to be there as shelter from the storm for the people of Moore who have been impacted,” said Obama. “And when we say that we’ve got your back, I promise you that we keep our word.”
The president praised local officials, first responders and school principals for their efforts to prevent more death and suffering. The storm killed 24 people, injured more than 375 and damaged 12,000 residences in and around Oklahoma City.
“This area’s known more than its share of heartbreak, but people here pride themselves on the Oklahoma standard … being able to work through disasters like this and come out stronger on the other side,” Obama said as he spoke in front of the wreckage of the destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.
“It’s going to take a long time for this community to rebuild, so I want to urge every American to step up,” he said, suggesting donations via the American Red Cross website.
After speaking publicly, Obama visited a Moore fire station.
“We got to talk to him after he saw the damage, and of course, once you see the damage, it’s different,” Moore Police Sgt. Jeremy Lewis told CNN affiliate KOCO. “No matter how many pictures you look at, you see it in person, it’s going to to change even the president, which it did.”
Lewis said Obama vowed to keep helping the area rebuild after the media attention dies down.
“He … let us know that after all the media and everything is gone, he’ll still be sending anything that we need,” Lewis said, “and he’ll make sure that we get the town built back up.”
At a public memorial and prayer service on Sunday evening at the First Baptist Church in Moore, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said, “Our spirits have been shaken this week.”
“Our hearts have been broken, but our resolve is strong and we will rise again. In the midst of human tragedy, we’ve seen the best of Oklahoma come forth,” she said.
She held up two items she found in the wreckage of a school — a note from a student, and a poster with classroom rules, imploring children to always do their very best.
“I think it was probably the start of healing for the community,” Debby Goss, a Shawnee, Okla., resident, said about the prayer service.
“I think a lot of people do pull together here, and this was a good time for them to see each other in one place that wasn’t a rescue center or a disaster area — that there was a peaceful place for them to just sit and think about the other people that are here to support them and help.”
At Southmoore High School’s graduation, when Alyson Costilla walked across the stage to get her diploma, about a dozen people in the crowd stood and held up pictures of her mother, who died in a 7-Eleven hit by the tornado.
The public schools in Moore suffered an estimated $45 million in damage, while insurance claims related to Monday’s storm will likely top $2 billion, according to Kelly Collins of the Oklahoma Insurance Department.