US President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged long-term federal help for Kentucky communities ravaged by tornadoes last week, expressing surprise at the scope of the devastation as he visited the largely destroyed city of Mayfield.
“There’s no red tornadoes or blue tornadoes,” Mr Biden said, referring to the political colours of the Republican and Democratic parties. “I’ve not seen this much damage from a tornado.”
Kentucky is a mainly Republican state but has a Democratic governor, Andy Beshear.
Mr Beshear put the death toll in his state at 74, with dozens of others unaccounted for, after twisters swept through last week. Tornadoes associated with the same storm system hit at least four other states as well. At a candle factory, at least eight people were killed and several others are still missing.
In Mayfield, which was all but levelled when a tornado barrelled through the city late on Friday, voters went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
Dozens of residents turned out to greet Mr Biden, some wearing Trump's signature "Make America Great Again" hats and T-shirts.
Gary Killian sported a pro-Trump hat but said the tragedy transcended politics.
“I wanted to try to see and look into his eyes and hear what he had to say," Mr Killian told The National. "Of course, I'm on the other side of the fence from him, but he's still the president."
With Mr Biden's polls sagging amid concerns about the economy, inflation and the pandemic, the Kentucky visit was an opportunity for him to showcase his skills as "consoler-in-chief" and promise federal help to a community in need.
"Don’t hesitate to ask for anything," he told local officials during a tour of Mayfield where he peered into the hulls of businesses that no longer exist.
Mayfield resident Wes Mills also did not vote for Mr Biden.
“This is not Biden country, by far, no,” Mr Wells said. “But it doesn't matter today.”
Mr Wells, who runs a dentistry practice that was destroyed in the twister, said Mr Biden had a chance to show what he can do.
“He wants his polls up, now is his chance to come in here and show America what he can do for us,” he said.
The president has already declared a “major disaster” in Kentucky, clearing the way for federal funding to flow to affected communities.
Before his Mayfield visit, Mr Biden toured the state by helicopter for an aerial view of the devastation.
Mr Biden’s tour of Mayfield was met with a mix of apathy, frustration and hope.
“He should have been here four days ago,” grumbled Cheryl Beverly, who drove in from Ohio to offer a helping hand.
The president has experienced a large share of personal tragedy: in 1972, Mr Biden’s first wife and their one-year-old daughter died in a car crash. In 2015, his son Beau died from an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Ms Beverly said now is the time for Mr Biden to show Kentuckians how much he cares.
“He needs to hug those parents who have lost their child.”
Mr Wells said he hoped his community would show the president respect and ignores politics for the day.
“I just hope we don't do anything stupid and shout: ‘Let's go, Brandon’, for crying out loud,” Mr Wells said, referring to a cryptic conservative slogan used to insult Mr Biden.
“Because this is not political.”