* Alabama governor praises federal response to disaster
* Sunday gives storm-hit region chance to take stock
* Napolitano visits Alabama, Mississippi
By Peggy Gargis
PRATT CITY, Ala., May 1 (Reuters) - Top government officials planned to survey the devastated landscape left by tornadoes in the South on Sunday as President Barack Obama’s administration tries to show it is on top of the deadliest U.S. natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina.
Storms and tornadoes killed about 350 people across seven states last week, reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble and causing damage that will likely run into billions of dollars.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, were to visit Pratt City, Alabama, and Smithville, Mississippi.
Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, was sharply criticized over the federal rescue effort after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 tore up the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans.
Alabama was the worst-hit state in last week’s storms, with 250 killed. An additional 101 people died in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Louisiana.
About 1,700 people were injured in Alabama alone and others were missing after tornadoes crushed homes, flipped cars upside down and tore children from their parents arms.
Full coverage of U.S. tornadoes [ID:nN28284934]
Factbox on deadliest U.S. tornado days [ID:nN28269147]
Factbox on states hit by tornadoes [ID:nN29148979]
The state’s Republican governor, Robert Bentley, praised the federal response and said Alabama’s deep culture of self reliance and community help had made a huge difference.
“When you see local, state and federal people cooperating like this it really makes a difference,” Bentley said Sunday on the CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Evidence of coordinated relief efforts has been abundant in places like Phil Campbell, a northwest Alabama town where tornadoes destroyed 40 percent of the houses on Wednesday.
FBI officers, FEMA officials, state troopers, police, sheriffs, firefighters, and officials of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service worked with many local volunteers to clear roads and debris on Saturday.
“My friend and her boy died right over there. This is what I can do for her from my heart,” said Carlos Carabez, who was sawing a fallen tree into pieces so it could be hauled away.
Bentley declared Sunday a day of prayer in Alabama, a poor and politically conservative state that is part of a region in which evangelical churches play a powerful social role.
Several churches were torn down by the storms including Bethel Baptist church, an African American church in Pratt City outside Birmingham with a congregation of 5,000. On Sunday, the church held services at a local convention center.
“This service is our response to tragedy. It shows that we are not victims. We are victors. We are visible victors,” pastor T.L. Lewis said in an interview.
The death toll from last week, which is still expected to rise, was the second-highest inflicted by tornadoes in U.S. history. In 1925, 747 people were killed after twisters hit the midwestern states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
Unlocking federal assistance, Obama late on Friday signed major disaster declarations for Mississippi and Georgia, adding to the one already signed for Alabama. (Additional reporting by Verna Gates in Phil Campbell, writing by Matthew Bigg, Editing by Tom Brown and Doinna Chiacu)