The Washington Post

Obama to tour Alabama tornado zone Friday

President Obama is scheduled to tour the aftermath of Alabama’s deadly tornadoes Friday as his administration’s approach to emergency management faces its first major test.

On Thursday, Obama vowed that “the federal government will do everything we can” to help states recover from storms he called “nothing short of catastrophic.”

Late Wednesday, the president declared a federal emergency in Alabama and dispatched Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to inspect the damage.

Fugate, a former Florida state emergency management director, said Thursday that the federal government will take its cues in offering aid from state leaders.

“This is a response being conducted by local responders,” Fugate said, adding that FEMA will maintain “a support role.”

Even before the storms struck, FEMA had already placed several management assistance teams on standby, based on weather reports. The teams include many disaster-relief experts. By Thursday evening, the agency had sent several dozen staffers south, with others expected to arrive Friday.

Aides said Fugate would likely stay overnight in Alabama and return to Washington on Friday after touring damaged areas with Obama.

Fugate and his former state emergency colleagues widely panned FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina and other deadly hurricanes in 2005. When he assumed control of the agency in 2009, Fugate retooled the agency’s response plans, placing more control in the hands of regional administrators, who are expected to keep in close touch with state and local leaders.

That plan earned praise Thursday from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who had asked for help from Washington.

“We are very thankful that we have FEMA with us here today,” Bentley said in Tuscaloosa.

Earlier in the day, Bentley and Fugate had said the size and magnitude of the tornadoes — and not a lack of preparation — were responsible for the high number of deaths. Thursday’s storm system, which stretched from Louisiana to North Carolina, ranks as one of the deadliest to hit the United States in decades.

“People are very aware in Alabama of tornadoes,” Bentley said. “You just cannot move massive amounts of people when it hits a largely populated area like Tuscaloosa. You cannot move thousands of people in five minutes.”

White House aides said Obama received regular updates Thursday from Fugate and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

As the federal tornado response ramped up, administration officials also took part Thursday in a regional earthquake drill that involved several Midwestern states as well as Alabama and Tennessee.

The drills, aimed at raising awareness among families, schools, universities and businesses along the New Madrid Seismic Zone, come weeks before a major national-level disaster exercise.

Fugate said it was important for Thursday's drill to proceed despite the tornado damage.

“We do have to be prepared for concurrent natural disasters occurring in this country, earthquakes being one of them,” he said.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
Quoted
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.