WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Saturday directed that federal resources be surged to locations with the greatest need after a series of tornadoes and severe weather ripped through several. states, the White House said.
Biden was briefed about the devastating tornadoes by Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, White House Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, and other senior officials, it said.
FEMA is sending emergency response personnel, water and other needed commodities to the region, and Biden's order will make other federal resources and personnel available.
More than 70 people are feared dead after a series of tornadoes tore through several states late Friday, said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.
“This is the most devastating, most deadly tornado event in Kentucky’s history,” Beshear said in a news conference Saturday afternoon. Beshear said he expects the death toll to exceed 100.
Biden approved Kentucky's state of emergency on Saturday afternoon and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from severe storms, straight-line winds, flooding, and tornadoes.
"FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding," the White House said in a statement.
In a press conference shortly afterwards, Biden said his approval of Kentucky's disaster declaration will "accelerate federal emergency assistance for Kentucky right now, when it's urgently needed."
He also said he "stands ready" to approve additional federal emergency declarations from governors of other states impacted by tornadoes and severe weather.
"I want folks in all these states to know we're going to get through this and the federal government is not going to walk away," the president added.
Earlier on Saturday, Kentucky's congressional delegation, which includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. John Yarmuth, sent a joint letter to Biden expressing their support for Beshear's request for a disaster declaration.
"We strongly support this request and ask for your timely consideration,” the delegation wrote in their letter. "The Kentucky National Guard and Kentucky State Police have been mobilized to provide support to Kentuckians, but emergency response has also been hampered by the storm damage."
More than 35 tornadoes were reported Friday evening across at least six Midwest and southeastern states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.