President Bush toured some of the worst tornado-ravaged areas of Tennessee today, serving as 'comforter in chief' to victims whose lives were torn apart by devastating tornadoes this week.
"There's no doubt in my mind this community will come back better than before," Bush said in a tobacco-farmer area near the Kentucky border. "Macon County people are down-to-earth, hardworking, God-fearing people. They're just getting a little help and will come back stronger."
Macon County suffered the heaviest death toll from tornadoes that tore across Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama, Tuesday night. The death toll has neared 60 so far, even as search operations continue. Large numbers of residents still unaccounted for.
As Bush's helicopter flew low over the Tennesse hills, giving him a birds-eye view of snapped trees and remains of once intact-buildings. The twisters' impact was random.
After the aerial tour, Bush met with and victims on the ground, rescue workers, and community leaders, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, the heads of the state National Guard, and Lafayette Mayor Bill Wells.
"People have got to understand here in the region that a lot of folks around America care for them now," Bush said. "And I'm here to listen, to determine - you know, to make sure - that the federal response is compassionate and effective."
In all, Bush spent 2 1/2 hours in the disaster zone. But it was notable that he sped to the region, arriving for a firsthand view less than three days after the tornadoes roared through.
The President has already declared five counties in Tennesee disaster areas to speed up relief efforts.
More Worries for Victims
Now local residents are facing still more challenges as looters and power shortages make recovery difficult.
They're going to have the looters and then the metal scrappers giving them hell," said Jason Newsse, who came from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Macon County was under a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
And still, the whereabouts of 230 county residents remained unknown, said Melissa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Most may be staying with relatives or hotels outside the county. But authorities said they found three people Wednesday night in a basement where they had been trapped.
Officials say that potential looting could hamper efforts to find the missing people. Police were tightly controlling access to the worst-damaged areas, requiring residents to show identification at checkpoints before going to their homes.
Miracle Baby Symbol of Hope
But the discovery of a baby boy found alive in an open field has become a sign of hope.
Eleven-month old Kyson Stowell had only a few scraps despite being found 150-yards from his ruined home.
"Maybe he landed on something that lessened his blow, maybe he, you know,came down against a bush or something. I think it was probably mostly luck, God's grace," Dr Tom Morgan, Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University, said.
As word the tornado was coming spread through the community, the Stowells called their 23-year-old daughter, Kerri, warning her to take cover. Kerri said she was bracing for the storm in the bathtub, clutching her baby to her side.
It took two hours for the Stowells to drive around the downed trees and power lines and make the four-mile trip to Kerri's home. During that time, firefighters David Harmon and Karl Wegner combed through the pasture one more time. They found Kyson face-down in the mud.
When the Stowells made it to the scene, the first thing Douglas Stowell saw was a firefighter holding the baby. His mother did not survive the storm.
Baby Kyson is now being cared for by his grandparents.
The family has set up a trust fund to pay for Kyson Stowell's college education. Checks may be sent to Sun Trust Bank, 1605 21st Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212. Or call 615-340-0249.
Sources: CBN News, The Associated Press