President Barack Obama visited the worst-hit areas of the US were hundreds of people were killed earlier this week in devastating storms.
Obama toured smashed homes and met survivors on a visit to Alabama, one of seven southern states hit by recent tornadoes and storms.
“We are going to do everything we can to help these communities rebuild,” Obama told said in Tuscaloosa, a university city in Alabama that was devastated by the tornadoes.
The destruction inflicted this week by the twisters, which flattened whole neighbourhoods, was the deadliest US natural catastrophe since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I have never seen devastation like this. It is heartbreaking,” said Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. “This is something I don’t think anyone has seen before.”
I have never seen devastation like this. It is heartbreaking.Barack Obama
In Alabama, emergency officials again raised the death toll from the tornadoes in that state, to 238. Bentley said 1,700 people were injured.
At least 101 more deaths were reported across Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Louisiana.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said it was feared the number of deaths would rise as states searched for many people unaccounted for. But the number of missing was not clear.
“We can’t bring those who’ve been lost back. They’re alongside God at this point…but the property damage, which is obviously extensive, that’s something we can do something about,” Obama said.
Initial report by risk groups say property insurance losses are expected to range from two to five billion US dollars.
Tuscaloosa resident Jack Fagan, 23, was glad that Obama saw the damage. “Perhaps federal funds will help us, but I’m sure it will take longer than they say because it always does.”
Recovery could cost billions of dollars and even with federal disaster aid it could complicate efforts by affected states to bounce back from recession.
Tornadoes are a regular feature of life in the US South and Midwest, but they are rarely so devastating.