President George Bush today visited the site of a devastating tornado where eight teenage students were killed.
He climbed over mounds of roofing, broken glass and textbooks today on the site of Enterprise High School in Alabama, where the students, all 16 or 17 years old, were crushed by concrete and metal.
"A hundred kids got out of here alive, which is a miracle," Bush said.
More than 30 tornadoes killed at least 20 people across the US on Thursday.
Bush designated Coffee County, Alabama, as a disaster area, releasing millions of dollars in federal aid for recovery and individual assistance.
He also got a bird's-eye view of the tornado damage as his helicopter followed the storm's path.
Bush scheduled the trip to highlight his administration's increased efforts, through the Federal Emergency Agency in particular, to help victims.
The White House and the disaster relief agency came under severe criticism for the government's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"With the system we used in the past, we were waiting for a local community to become overwhelmed before the state steps in and waiting for the state to become overwhelmed before the federal government steps in," said the agency's director, David Paulison. "That doesn't work. We have to go in as partners."
Agency teams have nearly completed preliminary damage assessments in Alabama and planned to begin similar work in Georgia today, he said.
Paulison said the agency had moved in water, ice, plastic sheeting and communications equipment.
It was not immediately clear what other areas will be eligible for federal disaster aid.
Paulison said he wanted to see the damage so he could make a quick recommendation to Bush on requests for assistance.
Officials at Enterprise High School had planned to dismiss the 1,200 students early on Thursday because of severe weather. After learning of the approaching tornado, they decided to keep students longer. Within minutes, the tornado blew out the school's walls and roof. The eight students died in an avalanche of concrete and metal.
Some said the death toll would have been greater if students had been outside when the storm arrived.
After touring Enterprise, Bush planned to visit Americus, Georgia, about 120 miles south of Atlanta, to be briefed on the damage there.