Enterprise, Ala. President Bush handed out hugs to residents who survived killer tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and Georgia and offered encouraging words Saturday at Enterprise High School where students grieved the loss of eight classmates.
"Today I have walked through devastation that is hard to describe," Bush said, standing with his arm around a student who had a tear running down her face. "Our thoughts, of course, go out to the students who perished. We thank God for the hundreds who lived."
Bush made the hastily arranged trip to highlight his administration's stepped-up efforts, especially by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to provide immediate help to disaster victims. The White House came under withering criticism for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In all, 20 people were killed by 31 tornadoes that struck the Midwest and Southeast on Thursday. From his Marine One helicopter, Bush got a bird's eye view of damaged areas of the two states where trees stood without tops, roofs were pockmarked with holes, a steeple rested on the ground in front of a church and wide swaths of homes and businesses lay in shambles.
The white water tower in Enterprise, a city of 22,000 in the southeastern corner of the state, was still standing. But the nearby high school, scene of the worst loss of life, looked as if it had been smashed by a wrecking ball.
Bush climbed over piles of black roofing, concrete, broken glass and textbooks that littered the remains of the school. He was taken on a tour of a hallway, lined with blue lockers, where the eight students died and scores of others were trapped when the ceiling and walls collapsed.
'The biggest effect of the storm is the shattered lives," Bush said. "We can rebuild buildings."
Bush also toured Americus, Ga., about 120 miles south of Atlanta, where storms killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses.