Obama arrives in Joplin to tour tornado-ravaged Missouri city
Thousands of tornado survivors lined Joplin’s main thoroughfares Sunday in anticipation of President Obama’s tour of the storm-ravaged city, holding American flags and banners declaring the city would come back from its devastation.
Obama flew over the worst-hit area of the city, viewing it from above, before landing in Joplin just after 12:20 p.m. CDT.
“This town is beat, but we’re not broke,” said Catherine Maples, who wore a T-shirt scrawled with the words, “A country town can survive.”
Thousands of motorcyclists also streamed into town from Missouri and surrounding states, many announcing their intention to block protests planned by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which said it would picket Obama’s arrival.
The controversial church opened a raw wound here with its announcement that those killed when a 200 mph tornado struck Joplin a week ago, now estimated at 139, “died for the sins of Missourians who have repeatedly lifted up their violent hands against God’s anointed, despite plain warnings not to do so.”
“We love Joplin. Joplin’s hurting. Nobody needs to make it worse. They need to go home,” said Mike Striegel, a biker from Joplin.
“We will take care of our town, no matter what it takes,” added Herb Kirkpatrick Jr., a motorcyclist from the outskirts of Joplin.
Most of those lining miles of roadway between Joplin’s main mall and the campus of Missouri Southern State University, where Obama was scheduled to speak after touring the 6-mile-long storm-ravaged area, were couples, families and groups of young people, many waving flags and posters of support for the city.
“We’re trying to show respect and honor for the ones we lost in Joplin,” said Charlie Brown, a co-organizer of the street rally, who said more than 20,000 people indicated on the group’s three Facebook pages that they planned to attend.
“We want people to know that despite rumors that 75% of Joplin is destroyed, that is absolutely not true. We are alive. We are well. We are going to survive.”
Obama, after meeting with storm survivors, was to deliver brief remarks, with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, at a community memorial service at the university.
The governor declared a day of pause for all those affected by the storm.
“During this day of prayer and this memorial service, I invite all Missourians to pause and remember their neighbors and draw upon the resources of their faith in support of their fellow Missourians,” Nixon said in a statement.
Later, at 5:41 p.m., state and city officials scheduled a community-wide moment of silence in recognition of the one-week anniversary of the tornado, one of the worst in U.S. history. A community service was scheduled at Cunningham Park, opposite the ravaged St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which took a direct hit from the storm and has since become a symbol of both destruction within the community and its quick move to rejuvenate.
Obama was traveling to Joplin after a six-day tour of Europe to boost relations with European leaders. In this deeply conservative region of southern Missouri, most welcomed the president’s show of support, but many also questioned the need for a presidential visit.
“People for the most part are saying, ‘Stay home and send money,’ ” said Kristi Santee, a Joplin resident.
“I don’t know how many tax dollars it took for him to come down and tour what we already know,” Maples said.
But Mitzi Smith, who was sitting under a tree along the arrival route, said the city was suffering too much to worry about who comes to help.’
“To me, anybody who’s here to support this town is OK with me,” she said.
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