Updated 4:45 p.m. EDT:
President Obama has ordered a full-scale federal response to deadly tornadoes that struck Missouri on Sunday night.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is traveling to Missouri on Monday to begin assessing what might be needed from the federal government.
At least 116 people are dead in the town of Joplin, where homes and hospitals were damaged by storms that ripped through the town Sunday night. Government forecasters said Monday that the Joplin, Mo., tornado is the deadliest U.S. twister on record since 1953.
Obama, beginning a weeklong trip to Europe, spoke with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) on Monday from Dublin "to personally extend his condolences and to tell all of the families of Joplin affected by the severe tornadoes that they are in his thoughts and prayers," the White House said in a statement.
The White House also said that a FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) is en route to Joplin ahead of any other requests the state might make for federal assistance.
Agency personnel at FEMA’s regional office in Kansas City are on alert and ready to deploy, according to Beth Freeman, the agency’s regional administrator for Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
Although officials are in contact with state officials and staying abreast of the situation, FEMA won’t be able to fully utilize its resources until after Nixon issues a formal request for disaster assistance.
At that point, FEMA will be able to begin distributing financial assistance to eligible homeowners and businesses whose possessions were destroyed by the storm, and to cities and towns whose infrastructure was also affected.
The agency is also likely to deploy community liaison teams to assess the damage and begin distributing aid. As The Federal Eye reported last month, the liaison teams answer questions, ensure damage assessments are completed quickly and provide other support for disaster survivors.
FEMA is already responding to deadly twisters in Alabama and Mississippi, is providing assistance to flood-ravaged communities along the Mississippi River and Morganza Spill Way, and has issued wildfire grants to Florida and Texas.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday that 2011 is the ninth-deadliest tornado year on record, with more than 450 killed by twisters so far this year, far short of the 794 people killed by tornadoes in 1925.
About 1,000 tornadoes have struck the U.S. so far this year; a record 1,817 tornadoes ravaged the country in 2003.
Significant weather systems, packed with the possibility of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, are moving across the Midwest, Great Plains and the D.C. region through Monday afternoon, NOAA forecasters said. A severe weather outbreak is forecast for Tuesday, with strong tornadoes likely over Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Missouri.