Obama speaks at Joplin memorial for tornado victims
The president attended the memorial after touring the scene of last week's tornado, which killed at least 120 people in Missouri.
Face to face with the legions of homeless and the bereaved, President Barack Obama on Sunday toured the apocalyptic landscape left by Missouri's killer tornado, consoled the community and committed the government to helping rebuild shattered lives.Skip to next paragraph
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"We're not going to stop 'til Joplin's back on its feet," Obama vowed. A memorial service where Obama spoke punctuated a day of remembrance one week after the disaster, as authorities pressed on with the task of identifying the victims and volunteers combed through wreckage of neighborhoods where nothing was left whole.
The service erupted in cheers when Obama said, "I promise you your country will be there with you every single step of the way," a pledge he extended to all parts of the nation raked by violent storms this season.
Air Force One flew over a massive swath of brown — a land of flattened houses and stripped trees — on its approach to Joplin. On the ground, the destruction was even more stark and complete. Obama confronted painful sights at every turn and said nothing in his life measured up to what he saw this day.
Yet he spoke, too, of redemptive moments, the stoicism of the community and tales of plain luck. He told a story of a man he talked to who apparently put a pot pie in the oven, heard the storm was coming, hid in a closet and "came out without a scratch." Obama celebrated the spirit of volunteers who have flocked to Joplin to help, the pickup truck owners who ferried people to the hospital and the citizens who lined up for hours to donate blood to people they don't know.
"You've demonstrated a simple truth," he told the service, "that amid heartbreak and tragedy no one is a stranger. Everybody is a brother. Everybody is a sister. We can all love one another."
The crowd of hundreds at the service reflected a community in the midst of rebuilding: people in shorts and baseball caps, and plenty of babies who occasionally burst out crying. The president talked over the screeching until a baby was hurried out by the mother.
Obama got a notably warm reception in this conservative part of Missouri. His remarks were tailored for a religious service, with quotes from scripture, references to the love that binds people to each other, and comments on the essential goodness of humanity. The stories of the storm lead us to "put aside our petty grievances," the president said. "There are heroes all around us, all the time. So, in the wake of this tragedy, let us live up to their example: to make each day count."
Known for his cool, even-tempered demeanor, Obama offered his own brand of comforting: eloquent words, plentiful handshakes, some hugs, pats on the heads of children, offers of "God bless you." Not for him the raw emotion Americans saw in his predecessors George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.