Obama meets two students during visit

Friday, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle saw firsthand the devastation from Wednesday’s tornado in areas of Tuscaloosa, including much of 15th Street, Rosedale, Holt and Alberta. During his visit, the president met two University of Alabama students volunteering in one of Tuscaloosa Co.'s hardest-hit areas.

“I was down in Alberta helping one of my friends move the stuff from her apartment in Arlington Square when a bunch of guys came up and told us the Obamas were coming,” said Derek Johns, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice. “We waited around for a while and saw his motorcade come in the back of the neighborhood. It eventually made its way over to us.”

Johns said the president, who was in the middle of the entourage, came over to speak with him and his friend, Ellery Schnell, a junior majoring in English.

“He came up, and he shook my hand and asked us for our names and if we were students at the University,” Johns said. “Then he asked if we were volunteering in Alberta to help with debris pickup and asked my friend about her apartment. He said they were down here to support us and that they’re going to work together with us to get the city back to the way it was before this tragedy.”

Johns said Obama basically gave him and Ellery a pep talk.

“The president seemed very concerned and made sure we were OK,” Johns said. “He asked about each of us in a kind of personal meeting. It was more raw than you would see at a convention or something like that.”

The president then told Johns and Schnell that his wife wanted to say a few words to them.

“The First Lady gave each of us a hug and said she’s so sorry about everything that happened,” Johns said. “She told us to stick together and work together and everything would turn out OK.”

Following the personal meeting with students and volunteers, the president hosted a press conference to “express his deepest condolences to not just the city of Tuscaloosa, but the state of Alabama and all the other states that have been affected by this unbelievable storm,” according to White House transcripts.

“Obama remarked time and time again that he’s never seen a disaster such as this.,” said Mayor Walt Maddox in a 3:30 p.m. press conference. “His visit meant a lot to those in the affected areas.”

Obama commended Maddox for his extraordinary leadership in mobilizing the resources of the state and bringing them to Tuscaloosa. He goes on to assure people that federal aid is being provided to the area.

“I’m very pleased that we’ve got a FEMA director in Craig Fugate who is as experienced as anybody in responding to disasters even of this magnitude,” Obama said. “And we’ve already provided the disaster designations that are required to make sure that the maximum federal help comes here as quickly as possible.”

Obama said that while we can’t bring those who are lost back, we can work to restore the property that was damaged.

“What you’re struck by is people’s resilience and the way that the community has come together,” Obama said, mentioning the University students who were out volunteering at Arlington Square. “And obviously that's testimony to the leadership of the governor and the mayor, but it’s also inherent as part of the American spirit.  We go through hard times, but no matter how hard we may be tested, we maintain our faith and we look to each other to make sure that we’re supporting each other and helping each other.”

Gov. Robert Bentley spoke after Obama, and said there are 210 confirmed deaths in Alabama, 1,700 injured, and a number of people missing as of this morning. However, he commended the first responders for their around the clock work to rescue and recover the city.

“Our mayors, our county commissioners, our police, our firemen -- they have all just done a fantastic job,” Bentley said, according to White House transcripts. “Our EMA people, they have just -- we have got a great team.  They’ve all worked together.  And now we have the federal government helping us.  And, you know, that just shows when locals and state and federal government works together, we can get things accomplished, and that's what we’re going to do.”

The governor assured Tuscaloosans that although the past 36 hours have been probably the most trying in this community’s history, a new story is going to be written here. He said the years to come are going to be fueled with hope and opportunity.

“Since this tragedy began, I’ve been using Romans 12:12 when Paul wrote under persecution, ‘Rejoice in our confident hope,’” Bentley said. “Well, today, Mr. President, your visit here has brought a confident hope to this community.  And in the days, weeks and months to come, we’re going to be a story that you’re going to be very proud of and you can talk about across this land.”

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