WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday offered condolences for the victims of a deadly tornado in Oklahoma and pledged to focus the nation’s resources on recovery and rebuilding.
“As a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead,” he said at the White House. “Yesterday I spoke with Governor (Mary) Fallin to make it clear to Oklahomans that they would have all the resources that they need at their disposal.”
Obama was briefed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other senior advisers on the emergency response in Moore, where schools and a hospital were destroyed Monday.
The death toll was 24 as emergency workers continued to sift through debris.
The president sent his top disaster relief official, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate, to Oklahoma on Tuesday morning to help manage recovery efforts.
“The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes,” said Obama, who has approved federal disaster funding for the region.
Obama spoke Monday night with Fallin and U.S. Representative Tom Cole to express sympathy and condolences, the White House said.
Sending FEMA’s top official will “ensure all federal resources are supporting our state, local, and tribal partners in life saving and safety operations including search and rescue,” the White House said in a statement.
Cole, a Republican who lives in Moore, said in media interviews that Obama, a Democrat, was kind and generous during Monday’s call.
“I‘m quite confident that we’ll get it (emergency aid) and that Congress will act, but certainly the president will use everything at his disposal,” Cole told CBS “This Morning.”
Oklahoma’s senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, offered their condolences in posts on Twitter.
Coburn said late Monday that any federal disaster aid would have to be offset with other budget cuts, CQ Roll Call said on its website.
But on Tuesday Coburn, the top Republican on the Senate panel overseeing FEMA, said in a statement that “any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.”
He and Inhofe were among the 36 Republican senators who voted against federal money to help clean up the Superstorm Sandy that hit New Jersey and New York last year.
Cole, who voted for the $50.5 billion aid package for Sandy in January, said residents of the Oklahoma town will need outside assistance as well.
“Further down the line just like our friends with Sandy and Katrina and disasters of that sort, we’ll need help from our fellow Americans,” he told CBS.
Inhofe told MSNBC that he would seek to ensure that measures to fund disaster relief for Oklahoma would not result in spending on other projects.
He urged people to make contributions to the Red Cross and other relief organizations. “This thing was huge,” he told CNN.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Matt Spetalnick, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, Charles Abbott, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Xavier Briand