WASHINGTON – President Bush offered condolences to victims of violent storms and tornadoes that roared through several Southern states and said he would visit stricken areas on Saturday "with a heavy heart."
He said he told the governors he wanted to express "my personal condolences as well as the condolences of the nation for those who lost their lives in the recent tragedies in those two states."
Bush will visit areas hit by a violent storm system that spawned tornadoes that struck an Alabama high school, killing eight students.
The White House said Bush would make two stops on Saturday, but his destinations were still being worked out with governors in the affected states.
"I go down with a heavy heart," the president said. "I go down knowing full well that I'll be seeing people whose lives were turned upside down by the tornadoes. I'll do my very best to comfort them."
Bush and other administration figures had come under heavy criticism for what critics said was a slow response last year to the Gulf Coast hurricanes that devastated much of Louisiana and Mississippi.
The burst of tornadoes was part of a line of thunderstorms and snowstorms that stretched from Minnesota to the Gulf Coast. Authorities blamed tornadoes for the deaths of a 7-year-old girl in Missouri, 10 people in Alabama and nine in Georgia, and twisters also damaged homes in Kansas.
"I ask our nation, for those who are prayerful, to give a prayer for the victims of the storms," Bush said.
He spoke on the South Lawn of the White House as he prepared to board his helicopter as part of an unrelated trip to Indiana and Kentucky.
Aaron Walker, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that the Georgia governor was working on a disaster-aid request on Friday.
Some 14 FEMA preliminary disaster assessment teams are already at work in Alabama, he said.