Obama promises to help rebuild tornado-ravaged Missouri

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Before landing to officially begin his visit, President Obama surveyed the damage as Air Force One flew over this town that was almost erased from the Earth by a massive tornado just one week ago.

From the air, it looked as though a giant had taken a lawnmower right through the center of a miniature town. On the ground, the destruction was seemingly endless as fields of debris, once neighborhoods, stretched on as far as the eye could see.

With more than 140 dead and many still missing, Obama landed in Joplin to witness the immense and horrific damage, offer condolences to the survivors and promise federal efforts that will help the town get back on its feet for years to come.

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The president was chipper as he walked through the streets of some of the hardest hit parts of the town, stopping to talk with folks on the street who had lost everything, their demolished homes, personal effects turned debris and cars and trucks twisted and bent like toys.

And the people of Joplin, who voted against Obama in a big way, turned out to welcome and applaud the president for coming to their devastated town.

With the hot sun beating down and high humidity, Obama and his entourage walked the streets of ruin, stopping to chat with families gathered outside where their homes used to be.

At one lot where Obama met with survivors, the only thing left of the house that once stood behind them was the base of a red brick chimney. It was adorned with an American flag.

"The main thing I want to communicate to the people of Joplin is this is just not your tragedy," Obama said. "This is a national tragedy, and that means there will be a national response."

In meeting one woman, the president listened as she told of how her uncle had a house up the street that was destroyed.

After the president was informed that the uncle had survived the storm, he praised the important things in life, but Obama said "his house is obviously wrecked."

The president's trip comes one week to the day one of the deadliest tornadoes in history tore through this small town. Obama was departing for his six-day European trip when the storm hit.

Standing in the street, with families going through piles of rubble behind him, Obama and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) gave brief statements.

In his remarks, Obama discussed the scope of the tragedy and noted that in some ways it is worse than what he saw when he toured storm damaged Tuscaloosa, Ala. last month.

"Obviously, the scene speaks for itself," Obama said. "When we were in Tuscaloosa a few weeks ago, I talked about how I had not seen devastation like that in my lifetime. You come here to Joplin, and it is just as heartbreaking and in some ways even more devastating."

Despite losing this particular Missouri county to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Summit fallout hits White House Graham: Biggest problem is Trump ‘believes meddling equals collusion’ Obama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena MORE (R-Ariz.) by an overwhelming margin in 2008, the president was received warmly here at Missouri Southern State University.

The sidewalks were packed as the motorcade made its way through town. Many were waving flags while some held signs visible from the motorcade reading "God bless Joplin" and "God loves Joplin." There were only one or two of the customary "NObama" signs visible.

At a memorial service later, the decidedly blue-collar and probably shell-shocked crowd enthusiastically welcomed the president, shouting out their love for him early in the service before applauding him repeatedly during his remarks. 

During the remarks, the president at one point hit his stride, building in volume as the crowd joined his energy and jumped to their feet to applaud.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Joplin will rebuild," Obama said. "And as president I can promise you your country will be there with you every single step of the way. We will be with you every step of the way. We're not going anywhere!"