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In AL, Obama promises help to rebuild

From NBC's Athena Jones
During a trip to storm-ravaged Tuscaloosa, AL, President Obama today promised to help this community and others across the South rebuild after this week's devastating tornadoes.

The president and first lady toured the damage during a roughly two-hour stop in the city -- traveling through commercial and residential areas and to a school -- and met with state and local officials like Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. Bentley, who thanked the president for his visit and for providing federal assistance, said the death toll in Alabama had reached 210 and that some 1,700 people were injured and a number of others were still missing.

After seeing collapsed homes and speaking with residents who had lost all their worldly possessions, the president told reporters he had "never seen devastation like this" and said that the priority was to help the community recover.

"I want to just make a commitment to the communities here that we are going to do everything we can to help these communities rebuild," Obama said.

On Wednesday, the president declared a federal emergency declaration for Alabama -- a move that makes the necessary federal resources to help with rescue and recovery efforts. He has also spoken to the governors of Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia. And FEMA director Craig Fugate and regional director Phil May have been dispatched to the area to assess the damage and help determine what sort of federal help is needed.

In speaking about the mayor, who expressed concern that the death and destruction in his community would soon be forgotten by the media and the American people, Obama said: "I want to assure him that the American people all across the country are with him and his community and we're gonna make sure that you're not forgotten and that we do everything that we can to make sure that we rebuild."

After departing Alabama, the president -- who was also traveling with his daughters and mother in law -- flew to Cape Canaveral, FL to visit the Kennedy Space Center. He was originally scheduled to watch the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, but that has been postponed, likely for several days.

Today's trip was reminiscent of one he took to the Gulf Coast this time last year to visit communities devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While the spill was not caused by a natural disaster, the president made a similar commitment to help the region over the long term, saying on a May 2 visit to Venice, LA: "We're going to do everything in our power to protect our natural resources, compensate those who have been harmed, rebuild what has been damaged, and help this region persevere like it has done so many times before."