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Obama Offers Condolences, Encouragement to Joplin Tornado Victims

 

President Obama received warm applause and a standing ovation Sunday from members of the Joplin, Mo., community after pledging that the nation isn't going to stop helping recovery from a devastating tornado even when the cameras go away. 

Appearing at a memorial service after a tour of the neighborhoods damaged by an EF5 tornado, Obama said no one can answer when a storm will strike or the severity of the devastation, but that does not mean the community of 50,000 is powerless in the face of adversity.

"How we respond when the storm strikes is up to us. How we live in the aftermath of tragedy and heartache, that's within our control. And it's in these moments through our actions that we often see what makes life worth living in the first place. That's what in the last week Joplin has not only taught Missouri, or has taught America, it's what Joplin has taught the world," Obama said. 

"Your country will be with you every single step of the way," he continued."We're not going anywhere. The cameras may leave, the spotlight may shift, but we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored, until this community is back on its feet. 

The president spoke following remarks by ministers and laymen heavily doused with scripture and praise for Jesus. Many in the town have not had much more to rely on but faith and federal aid after a near mile-wide tornado last week killed at least 139 people and took out 2,000 buildings in its destructive wake.

The bereaved survivors are trying now to recover from the worst tornado in decades, in what has racked up to be the deadliest tornado season in more than 50 years.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and others greeted Obama on the tarmac before they set out for their walking tour of a destroyed neighborhood. Nixon said that he personally had been moved by the show of volunteers, hundreds who traveled across the nation to be there to pass out blankets, pillows, sunscreen, sandwiches and flashlights. 

"You need a flashlight because it gets pretty dark here at night, especially when you're standing in the middle of the street, staring at the pile of match sticks that was once your home," Nixon told the memorial service audience.

Nixon said Joplin's re-emergence will be the result of those living out the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritans.

"One year from today, Joplin will look different, and more different still in two years, and three and five. And as the years pass, the moral of our story will be the same: Love thy neighbor," he said.

As Air Force One swept over the landscape, flattened houses and stripped trees offered a massive swath of brown. Looking around the neighborhood from the ground, Obama eyed boarded-up windows, damaged business signs, fallen trees, piles of debris and homes spray-painted with "God Bless Everyone" 

With dozens still missing, homes marked with an X meant they had been searched already for missing loved ones. 

Speaking to the press after his tour, Obama said the "scene speaks for itself." 

Sunday's task by Obama is a recurring one of late. He has offered handshakes, hugs and federal assistance after the mass shooting in Arizona in January in which U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was wounded, when tornadoes struck Tuscaloosa, Ala., last month and more recently when flooding from the Mississippi inundated parts of Memphis, Tenn.

A few hundred people waved to the president along the motorcade route, bearing flags and snapping pictures. Some held signs that said, "God Bless Joplin."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.