President Joe Biden was en route to Kentucky Wednesday, five days after a series of deadly tornadoes touched down in the commonwealth, killing at least 74 people.
The president was scheduled to make his first stop at the Fort Campbell Army installation for a briefing on the extent of the damage before continuing on to the devastated cities of Mayfield and Dawson Springs. Biden was expected to make remarks in the afternoon, near the conclusion of his visit.
In addition to Kentucky, more than 30 twisters also hit parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee Friday night into Saturday morning. At least 14 people were killed across those states and more than 100 people remain missing.
Among the victims are several children — including three under the age of sixteen. Thousands more have been left without electricity and other utilities, including heat and running water.
Biden called the destruction “stunning” on Monday after the White House announced his trip.
“We’re going to stay as long as it takes to help them,” he told reporters, adding that the most urgent priority was “making sure … that we’re not leaving anybody still breathing under debris.”
“The devastation is just stunning,” the president added. “I mean, there’s nothing left standing, basically, along the path that goes all the way through.”
Biden later pointed out the damage in Mayfield on a map, saying the town was “wiped out.”
“This is a town with a relatively low average income of under $20,000 a year,” he said. “It is a town that has been wiped out, but it’s not the only town.”
Biden has approved federal disaster declarations in Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee to help speed assistance to affected areas.
The White House has not announced whether Biden will travel to the other states affected by the tornadoes. However, press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the president is “open” to such trips.
On Sunday, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell warned that the effects of climate change would make such devastating storms part of a “new normal.”
“The effects we are seeing of climate change are the crisis of our generation,” Criswell told CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that while it was “not unusual” for tornadoes to strike in December, “at this magnitude, I don’t think we have ever seen one this late in the year.”
“Even the severity and the amount of time this tornado or these tornadoes spent on the ground is unprecedented,” she said.