BEAUREGARD, Ala. -- President Donald Trump paid respects Friday to the 23 people killed when a powerful tornado roared through a rural Alabama town, observing a moment of silence before white wooden crosses that stood in remembrance of each victim.
Trump and his wife, Melania, held hands as they paused in front of each of the markers erected near a church serving as a makeshift disaster relief center for survivors of Sunday's twister.
Earlier, the president stood on a hill overlooking a debris field and surveyed mangled trees and other wreckage.
Trump flew by airplane to a military base on the Georgia-Alabama border and boarded a helicopter that provided him with an aerial tour of the region before he arrived in Beauregard, which bore the brunt of the storm.
"We saw things that you wouldn't believe," Trump said after visiting a section of town where tornado winds tore houses from their foundations and uprooted trees. Mangled metal siding, wood planks and piping lay strewn on the ground, along with remnants of everyday life: items of clothing, a sofa, a bottle of Lysol cleaner and a welcome mat encrusted with dirt.
A local official had briefed Trump and the first lady as they stood outside a trailer belonging to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is assisting state and local response efforts.
He met with victims along the street, hearing their stories and dispensing hugs. He met privately with survivors and family members, including a woman mourning the loss of 10 relatives. "What they've been through is incredible," Trump said after he emerged from the meeting.
At the relief center at Providence Baptist Church, Trump thanked law enforcement officials and other first responders, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversees FEMA.
"We couldn't get here fast enough," Trump said after the private church meeting.
"I wanted to come the day it happened," he said, adding that Gov. Kay Ivey had asked him to wait.
Before leaving the church, Trump posed for a photograph with a fifth-grader who has been volunteering there and signed the child's Bible, said Ada Ingram, a local volunteer. Ingram said the president signed her sister's Bible as well. He signed other items, too, including cellphones.
Chants of "USA!" broke out as Trump prepared to depart the church. He visited the nearby crosses before heading for Air Force One.
The pastor, Rusty Sowell, said the president's visit was uplifting and will help bring attention to a community that will need a long time to recover.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint," Sowell said.
Before Trump arrived in Beauregard, Renee Frazier stood among bricks and lumber that used to be her mother's home and waved as the helicopter carrying Trump passed overhead. Minutes before, Frazier had been arguing with relatives who opposed Trump's visit, calling it more about politics than compassion.
Frazier disagreed, saying, "I want the president here to see what happened to my mom's house. I want him right here on this land because my mom is about love and unity."
Down the road, where several people died, Trump supporter Bobby Spann said he hoped the president learned "how to be a Southerner and how to respect people" during his brief visit.
Spann said he also hoped Trump realizes how much help is needed. The tornado had partially peeled away the roof of Spann's mobile home.
"Houses need to be replaced. You can't help the dead folks, but you can try to help the ones that's still living," said Spann, chewing on a yellowroot twig.
Trump has said he's instructed FEMA to give Alabama "the A Plus treatment" as it recovers. The tornado that struck Beauregard was the deadliest to hit the U.S. since May 2013, when 24 people were killed by a twister in Moore, Okla.
The Alabama dead included four children and a couple in their 80s. Several people in Georgia were injured by twisters that also extended to Florida and South Carolina, according to the National Weather Service.
Information for this article was contributed by Darlene Superville of The Associated Press.
President Donald Trump views the devastation from Sunday’s deadly tornado during a visit Friday to Beauregard, Ala., along with his wife, Melania, and Kathy Carson, director of the Lee County, Ala., Emergency Management Agency. “We saw things that you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said after a look from the air and on the ground.
A Section on 03/09/2019
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