President Donald Trump visited Alabama on March 8 to meet the relatives of the 23 people killed by a tornado, speak with first responders, and survey the damage.
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump toured the area by helicopter and visited the homes of some victims in Beauregard, the tiny community where all of the 23 deaths occurred after a tornado ripped straight down a street, leaving a path of destruction half a mile wide.
The president’s motorcade passed by homes torn to the ground and flattened trees. A group of school children waved at the motorcade. One couple sat in a pickup truck parked in a driveway waving a large American flag.
“This is unbelievable,” Trump said.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey joined the president to survey the devastation.
Trump hugged the family members of one victim, Marshall Lynn Grimes. The relatives showed the president the 59-year-old’s cherished motorcycle vest and Bible.
Trump visited a disaster relief center at the Providence Baptist Church in Opelika to meet with survivors, volunteers, and first responders.
One of the volunteers, Ada Ingram, said that the president’s visit will bring the community closer together.
“I’d vote for him again,” said Ingram, who knew 10 of the victims. “I enjoyed him coming. I think it’s a godsend.”
Ingram said Trump signed hats and bibles, including for a 12-year-old boy.
Trump said he talked with one woman who lost 10 people in the storm.
“I said how did it go, and she said I lost 10,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Inside the church, round tables were piled high with donated supplies like shampoo, clothing, toiletries, backpacks, and books.
Trump told the crowd gathered in the church that the first responders were doing an “A-plus job.”
“We’re gonna take care,” Trump said. “We couldn’t get here fast enough … I wanted to come the day it happened.”
“We love you all,” he said. “We love the state of Alabama.”
After addressing the church, Trump walked outside the church to honor the victims. He walked to a row of crosses honoring the 23 people who died in the storm. Holding the first lady, he spent several moments in front of each cross. The president touched at least one delicately. Each of the crosses was decorated with hearts, stuffed animals, and flowers.
The tornadoes on March 3 were the deadliest to hit the state since 2013. In addition to the 23 people killed in and around Beauregard, dozens of people were injured and about 100 houses were destroyed by 170 mph winds, officials said.
Mobile homes were tossed over and ripped open last weekend, their contents strewn across a landscape littered with debris and uprooted trees. In some places, shreds of houses hung from the limbs of the few trees left standing.
The worst of the twisters, stirred up by a late-winter “supercell” thunderstorm, were ranked by forecasters at step four of the six-step Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado strength.
It was the greatest loss of life from a tornado since an EF-5 storm ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, in May 2013, killing 24 people and injuring 375 others.
Reuters contributed to this report.