President Bush will visit Tennessee on Friday to comfort victims of the devastating string of tornadoes that ripped through that state, the White House said Wednesday.

At least 54 people were killed and hundreds injured Tuesday and Wednesday by dozens of tornadoes that plowed across Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. It was the nation's deadliest barrage of twisters in almost two dozen years.

White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel said Tennessee was hit particularly hard.

"So the president is going there to express his support for the people who have been impacted by these devastating storms," he said.

To make room for the trip, Bush moved up his speech in Washington to the Conservative Political Action Conference to an earlier time on Friday. He has also postponed a meeting with the president of Mali.

Earlier Wednesday, Bush said he called the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee and assured them the administration stood ready to help and to deal with any emergency requests. He also tried to assure those affected by the tornadoes that the rest of the country is praying for them.

"Loss of life, loss of property — prayers can help and so can the government," Bush said. "I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them."

In recapping his conversations with the governors, Bush said: "I wanted them to know that this government would help them. But more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold those who suffer up in prayer."

Bush made his comments at the start of the ceremonial swearing-in of his new agriculture secretary, Edward Schafer.