President Obama traveled to Joplin, Missouri, Sunday, May 29, marking his third trip in about a month to survey the damage caused by a devastating natural disaster and also to comfort its survivors. The tornado swept through the city on May 22.
Before delivering his remarks at a memorial service held on the campus of Missouri Southern State University, the president’s motorcade toured the city’s Main Street, which is now a field of debris and downed trees where homes once stood. Obama, who stopped to speak with some of the residents, noted that when he visited Alabama last month he’d never before seen such damage, but what he witnessed in Joplin was “just as heartbreaking and in some ways even more devastating.” Thousands of survivors lined the city’s main thoroughfares, holding American flags and banners that read “God bless Joplin” and “God loves Joplin.”
The president pledged the nation’s support for Joplin and praised the residents for joining together in a time of tragedy.
“The cameras may leave; the spotlight may shift, but we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored and this community is back on its feet. We’re not going anywhere,” he said.
The tornado that ravaged the city of fewer than 50,000 residents has so far resulted in the deaths of 140 people and as of Monday, 29 people were still missing. It is the deadliest tornado in what has been the worst tornado season since records were first kept 60 years ago.
“The question that weighs on us at a time like this is: Why? Why our town? Why our home? Why my son, or husband, or wife, or sister, or friend? Why?” said Obama, who also recounted tales of people who died trying to save others during the tornado. “We do not have the capacity to answer. We can’t know when a terrible storm will strike, or where, or the severity of the devastation that it may cause. We can’t know why we’re tested with the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a home where we’ve lived a lifetime.”
But, he noted, the way one responds in the wake of tragedy and heartache is within an individual’s control. “And it’s in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place,” he said.
(Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)