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Obama tours destruction in Oklahoma, vows nation 'has your back'

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Obama is greeted as he tours a tornado-stricken area of Moore, Okla., on Sunday.

President Obama resumed his role as the nation’s comforter Sunday, vowing to the people of Oklahoma "we’ve got your back" six days after a ferocious tornado tore a deadly path there.

The president’s tour of the city of Moore included visits with victims and first responders and a firsthand look at the destruction wrought by a twister that rated the most powerful on the five-step scale used to measure a tornado’s might.

Surveying piles of rubble that a week ago was a tidy suburban neighborhood, Obama walked along Eagle Drive to what was Plaza Towers Elementary School. Seven children died in the school. 

“Obviously a picture is worth a thousand words; we see what the people of Moore have been dealing with,” Obama said in brief remarks, the mangled wreckage of the school building serving as his backdrop.

Monday’s storm ripped a 17-mile gash through the city, flattening entire blocks of homes, two schools and a hospital. Less than an hour after sirens warned residents of the twister’s approach, 24 people were dead and 377 hurt. 

Scott Olson / Getty Images

A monster tornado hit Moore, Okla., Monday afternoon, leaving at least 24 dead.

“This area has known more than its share of heartbreak, but the people pride themselves on the ‘Oklahoma standard,' Obama said. "Oklahomans have inspired us with their love and their courage and their fellowship."

The president noted that a day before the Moore tornado struck, a smaller, deadly twister struck about 40 miles away. Afterward, he said, a bible was found in the rubble opened to the book of Isaiah.

“'And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest,'” the president quoted the passage, adding, “God has a plan, but we are an instrument of his will.”

The Moore tornado was the most powerful in a flurry of 76 tornadoes that touched down in 10 states over a three-day span. The outbreak caused an estimated $2 billion to $5 billion in insured losses, according to disaster modeling company Eqecat. 

At least 1,200 homes in central Oklahoma were destroyed by Monday's tornado and at least another 12,000 were damaged. 

Obama, in rolled up shirtsleeves and khakis, was led on the tour by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and local officials. The scene has become familiar; the president arriving at the scene of tragedy to offer solace and support. 

Obama took similar walks to Sunday's through the remains of Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., each ravaged by tornadoes in 2011. He paid a call to the New Jersey shore last fall when Superstorm Sandy devastated the region. He delivered consoling remarks after a gunman’s deadly spree in Newtown, Conn., in December and when a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, last month. 

He found more heartbreak Sunday but also a community – hardened by experience -- that has already started to get back to its feet. Hundreds of volunteers have joined affected homeowners in literally pushing the rubble to the curb. Jeff Gorman, who hid in a cellar under his garage as the twister flattened his house, told The Oklahoman, “Everybody's just doing what they gotta do.”

Obama vowed the nation would be there to help. 

“This is a strong community with strong character,” the president said. “There’s no doubt they’re gonna bounce back. But, they need help, as anyone would need help,” calling on “every American to step up” and provide support. 

“When we say, we’ve got your back,” the president said. “I promise you, you have our word.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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