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Sunday, May 9, 1999 Published at 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK

World: Americas

Clinton visits tornado zone

The bathtub is all that remains of the Jackson home in Oklahoma

President Clinton has flown to Oklahoma City to see for himself the devastation caused last week by the worst tornadoes to hit the American Midwest for 15 years.

Following a half-hour helicopter flight across some of the worst affected areas, Mr Clinton met residents of Del City, Oklahoma one of the hardest-hit communities as they returned to begin rebuilding their lives.

[ image: The president's helicopter, Marine One, flies over Del City]
The president's helicopter, Marine One, flies over Del City
More than 50 people died and hundreds more were injured when winds reaching more than 200 mph (300 kmph) flattened houses and destroyed whole communities.

In his weekly radio address, Mr Clinton said he wanted to see personally the devastation caused by the tornadoes.

"The one thing I've learned is that the images we see on television can never fully convey the level of sheer destruction or the depth of human grief caused by these disasters," he said.

Meeting the challenge

The president said he would ask Congress for an additional $372 million to help disaster victims rebuild their lives.

He added that the Department of Labor would allocate $12m to create temporary jobs working in relief and reconstruction for those who lost their jobs in businesses destroyed by the storms.

[ image: Residents gather up what posessions remain]
Residents gather up what posessions remain
"Men and women who lost their jobs in businesses destroyed by the tornadoes will be paid to serve at relief centres, to distribute food and water, to help on construction crews," said Mr Clinton.

"There are some challenges that no individual - indeed, no community - can handle alone and on these occasions the national government must act quickly, effectively, compassionately."

'Testing our faith'

To ensure this he also announced that he would press Congress to approve $10m in increased funding for the National Weather Service to allow it to develop its advance warning networks giving residents more time to seek shelter.

"Natural disasters test our faith. But they also show us that the old-fashioned American values of neighborly care and concern are still very much alive," he said.

More than 5,000 homes were destroyed in Oklahoma by Monday's tornadoes, and a further 1,500 were flattened across the state line in Kansas. The area is popularly known as "tornado alley".

Later in the week tornadoes struck Tennessee and Texas killing another five people.

Insurance companies say they are expecting around $200m in initial claims as a result of the storms, but the final bill is likely to be much higher and could even hit $1bn.

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Internet Links

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Tornado Project Online

Twisters: Destruction from the Sky

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Office of Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating

Oklahoma State Government

Kansas State Government

National Severe Storms Laboratory

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