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FEMA to Help Victims of Midwest Tornadoes

May 6, 2003
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PIERCE CITY, Mo. (AP) - Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown says help is on the way for people hit hard by the weekend tornadoes.

Brown, head of the nation's disaster relief agency, arrived in Kansas on Tuesday morning to tour Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties, before heading to Lawrence County in Missouri.

Brown tells NBC that it doesn't take a terrorist incident for FEMA to respond. He says the agency's people were going over federal aid requests all night. And he says as soon as President Bush signs the forms, FEMA will send money and resources to people.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden asked the White House to declare a federal disaster in 39 counties. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared disasters or emergencies in several counties.

The twisters have left at least 37 people dead in three states and caused heavy damage to dozens of communities.

"Our prayers, and I hope your prayers, are with those whose loved ones who lost life or those who lost their homes," said President Bush, in Little Rock, Ark., as part of an economic development program.

The storms were blamed for at least 17 deaths in Missouri, seven in Kansas and 13 in Tennessee. The storms also brought hail and heavy rain; three of the victims drowned trying to drive on a flooded road near Nashville, Tenn.

Crews labored to restore services and remove heaps of rubble in towns smashed by tornadoes that roared through the three states.

Storms lingered Tuesday over the Tennessee and the National Weather Service posted tornado warnings for southern Tennessee and northern Alabama.

Ten people were still missing Tuesday, including eight in Missouri and two in Tennessee. Curfews were imposed in several communities and police were on guard against looting.

In Pierce City, Mo., the storm ravaged the four-block-long business district, tossing heavy debris like toothpicks but leaving some areas strangely undisturbed.

The town of nearly 1,400 residents had been working to refurbish the downtown area to attract tourists to its many antique stores, thrift shops and cafes.

"It sounded like 100 freight trains crashing all at once," said Ray Roux, 50. Except for a few shredded trees, his property looked unscathed.

"How can we save this?" business owner Cindy Gitchel asked Holden during a tour, gesturing to a once-quaint building that was now just rubble. "This town is 130 years old and you just don't find this anymore."

"The reason this town is 130 years old is because of people like you," he answered, with Gitchel sobbing. "This town will be back."

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