Residents of the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore are only beginning to come to terms with the devastating loss of life and property from Monday's massive tornado. In only 40 minutes, the twister's 210 mph winds killed at least 24 people, including nine children, and destroyed or damaged 2,800 homes, leveling block after block and showering debris across a corridor 22 miles long. This is a national tragedy, and the nation has a collective responsibility to move quickly in helping victims get back on their feet.
The extent of the crisis became clearer Wednesday as authorities grew more certain of the number of casualties, and as survivors and officials began to face the magnitude of recovering from a storm that according to initial estimates caused more than $2 billion in damage. President Barack Obama set the right tone of urgency by declaring flatly that this town of 56,000 would get whatever disaster assistance it needs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency quickly responded, and Gov. Rick Scott and other governors offered to help. Scott's gesture was appropriate and timely for a state that knows all too well the risks and anxiety that come with next week's start of the annual hurricane season.
Washington should provide Oklahoma with the relief money it needs without a distracting political debate over whether to offset the spending by cutting elsewhere in the federal budget. This is no time to play with people's lives and livelihoods as Congress did last year after Hurricane Sandy, when Republican objections to federal spending stalled an aid package for the Northeast states hit hard by the storm. The White House and Congress also need to spare the National Weather Service from any fallout over the budget impasse. The agency had a warning in effect 16 minutes before the tornado hit — valuable time when minutes mean lives. The nation needs to retain that forecasting ability for all areas vulnerable to natural disaster.
Americans should be comforted by having a government with the competence and resources to respond effectively in times of crisis. Floridians, who have been on the giving and receiving ends, should join the nation in sending their public and private resources — and their warmest thoughts — to Oklahoma in its time of need. That's what citizenship means.