MOORE, Okla., May 26 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama told Oklahomans Sunday Washington will be "with you every step of the way" as the state recovers from last week's devastating tornado.
The president visited Moore, Okla., where the tornado -- which killed 24 people May 20 -- caused the most damage and destruction. He inspected an elementary school and a fire station that is serving as a command center, and was scheduled to visit privately with families personally affected by the storm.
Speaking at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Obama said "whenever I come to an area that's been devastated by some natural disaster like this, I want to make sure everybody understands I'm speaking on behalf of the entire country. Everywhere, fellow Americans are praying with you, they're thinking about you, and they want to help."
"And so I'm just a messenger here today, letting everybody here know that you are not alone, that you've got folks behind you."
The president said the damage from the storm was "pretty hard to comprehend."
He thanked Gov. Mary Fallin "for your quick response and your outstanding work," as well as Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis; U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.; Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett; and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administration Craig Fugate.
Obama announced FEMA has completed searches of more than 1,200 structures and helped register more than 4,200 people for disaster assistance, "and we've approved more than $3.4 million in direct aid."
"We know Moore is going to come back stronger from this tragedy," the president said. "Your mayor said that you're already printing new street signs. And I want folks affected throughout Oklahoma to know that we're going to be with you every step of the way."
Officials estimate about 1,200 homes were destroyed and another 12,000 were damaged.