President Obama Tours Storm Damage in Alabama, Death Toll at 300
12:45 p.m. ET | President Obama met with local officials and survivors in Tuscaloosa, Alabama Friday morning and said he had “never seen devastation like this.” The president vowed residents would be given aid to help recover from the damage brought by the storms.
“We’re gonna make sure that you’re not forgotten and that we do everything we can to make sure that we rebuild,” he said.
President Obama shakes hands with local residents as he views tornado damage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, April 29, 2011. Obama Friday toured ‘heartbreaking’ devastation left by the tornadoes and storms. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
8:30 a.m. ET | The president and first lady will meet Friday with victims of a series of powerful storms that caused a path of destruction affecting six states and killed 300 people. More than 200 of those deaths took place in Alabama alone, and the city of Tuscaloosa was especially hard-hit.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told reporters, “People’s lives have just been turned upside down” by the impact of the storms. He is expected to meet with President Obama, who has designated federal aid for recovery efforts.
Amid downed trees and power lines, many remain without power, including the entire Cullman County, Alabama. Law enforcement officials have struggled to cope with the aftermath. Many roads are impassable due to the damage. The Alabama Emergency Management Agency said damage has been reported in almost half of the state’s counties.
More than 30 people died in both Tennessee and Mississippi and 15 in Georgia. Several people died in Virginia, when the tornado passed through a mobile home park. Arkansas reported one fatality.
Experts say the tornado damage is on a scale not seen since April 3, 1974, when a series of tornadoes pounded the South and Midwest, killing 310 people.
U.S., EU Press For U.N. Human Rights Investigation in Syria
The United States and European Union have asked the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to look into allegations of human rights abuses in the government crackdown on protesters in Syria, where an estimated 450 people have died in almost two months of unrest. Several European nations are considering imposing sanctions.
Chinese representative Xia Jingge rejected the possibility of an investigation. “We reject any pressure tactics on human rights issues and any naming and shaming,” he said.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad lifted the country’s nearly half-century old emergency law but has offered few other significant concessions. The government has categorized the demonstrations as led by “armed extremists” and vowed to put them down. Army tanks have been brought in to help quell the unrest, especially in Daraa, the focus of protests in the south.
More units could be seen in force Friday. Activists have planned further demonstrations after Friday prayers, and in part to memorialize those killed in last week’s violence in what they called a “day of rage” for Syria. Organizers called for gatherings in Daraa, Banias, and Homs, all of which have been hubs of previous demonstrations.
The Muslim Brotherhood has voiced support for demonstrators.
Morocco Begins Cafe Bombing Investigation
Moroccan police are launching a investigation into a bombing Thursday at a cafe in Marrakesh’s Djemaa el-Fna Square that killed 16 people, including 11 foreigners. Djeman el-Fna Square is a historic area popular with tourists.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which may have been carried out by a suicide bomber.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the attack was “heinous, cruel and cowardly.” Eight of the foreign victims are believed to be French, and France is sending law enforcement experts to aid in the investigation.
Morocco has not seen a major terrorist attack since 2003, when suicide bombers killed 45 people in a Casablanca assault.
Gadhafi Troops Battle Libyan Rebels Across Tunisian Border
According to witnesses, government troops battling Libyan rebels near the border crossed into Tunisian territory before being captured by Tunisian troops. Several civilians were reportedly injured in the clash.
The area near the border has been closely contested by rebels and Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. The Dhuheiba crossing is seen as an important passageway for people and supplies, and has changed hands in days of intense clashes.
Tunisia’s foreign ministry released a statement saying they “have informed the Libyans of their extreme indignation and demand measures to put an immediate stop to these violations.” In light of the protest-driven ouster of its own president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian government has been seen as sympathetic to the Libyan opposition.