- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2011

President Obama on Sunday visited the site of a “national tragedy” in Joplin, Mo., where residents continue picking up the pieces after the devastating May 22 tornado that left more than 130 people dead and dozens more unaccounted for.

Mr. Obama promised the nation will not forget Joplin and its people, promising the federal government will be with them “every step of the way.”

“We’re not going anywhere. … That’s America’s promise,” he said. The president also told Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon he’ll help cut through “red tape” so money can begin flowing quickly. That help, he said, won’t stop “until Joplin is fully back on its feet.”

Mr. Obama praised Joplin residents for their remarkable courage during and after the storm, telling them they “have lived the words of Scripture” by caring for their neighbors and, in some cases, sacrificing their own lives so others could be saved.

“It’s in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place,” the president said at an afternoon memorial service for those who perished. “No one is a stranger … we can all love another.”

But federal aid to the tornado-ravaged city already showed signs of turning into a political issue, as Republicans sought to balance any assistance with equal cuts from other areas of the budget.

“Families don’t have unlimited money, and, really, neither does the federal government. There’s no question there is a federal role to play here. Congress will find the money. It will be offset,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, speaking Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

As for where those cuts will come from, Mr. Cantor said that debate will wait “until the president comes forward with his recommendation” of how much federal aid is needed.

In the meantime, he recommended Americans donate to private charitable efforts.

Mr. Nixon said Joplin now bears the scars “of tremendous destruction,” the likes of which has not been seen before.

“Folks are beyond homeless. Their homes don’t exist. You can’t tell neighborhood to neighborhood whether a house was a brick house or a wooden house. … The power and destruction here was unimaginable,” the Democratic governor said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

On the ground, Joplin residents need all the help they can get. Before speaking at the memorial service, Mr. Obama talked with residents who lost everything in the storm, including a woman who told him her uncle’s house was “wrecked,” though he escaped unharmed.

“God bless you. Tell your uncle we’re praying for him,” Mr. Obama said, according to press pool reports from the scene.

During his memorial service address, the president spoke of employees at local businesses who saved the lives of fellow workers and customers by herding them into secure rooms, sometimes at the expense of their own lives.

Even amid the tragedy, Mr. Nixon said, he’s been touched by the selflessness of those who came from miles away to help. He said he met a group of “good Samaritans on a mission from God” from Tuscaloosa, Ala., which was torn apart by its own destructive storm late last month.

When he toured the destruction in Tuscaloosa, Mr. Obama said, he had not seen anything like it in his life.

“You come here to Joplin, and it is just as heartbreaking and in some ways even more devastating,” he said.

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