Obama Visits Joplin, Mo., To Survey Damage

President Obama visited the devastated area around Joplin, Mo., for the first time on Sunday. He said the nation will be with the devastated city "every step of the way."

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

We turn now to NPR's Wade Goodwyn, who is in Joplin, just outside the memorial service where President Obama spoke.

Hi, Wade. Thanks for talking with us.

WADE GOODWYN: Good afternoon, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, Wade, Air Force One flew over the tornadoes' path before the president actually landed in Joplin, and then I understand his motorcade stopped in the most devastated part of the city.

GOODWYN: Yeah. He talked to a family who was helping sift through the remains of their uncle's house, found out that the uncle had made it out alive and expressed his satisfaction at that. And he referenced his trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last month and said that what he saw around him today was just as heartbreaking and, he said, even more devastating.

MARTIN: Joplin is obviously a very wounded city at this point. What was the president's message today to the community?

GOODWYN: Well, I think, you know, it was twofold. He wanted to remind everybody that the federal government and the American people and he himself were with them, and that they were not going to be abandoned by the federal government and the American people.

But he also talked about the admiration that the country had for the people of Joplin, for their courage and perseverance. He told stories of heroes, of a guy, a pizza hut manager who tied a rope around his arm and put 12 people in a freezer and held that door shut until he was sucked up by the tornado. He was killed, but he saved a dozen people.

And there was just a story after story of people who gave their lives to save others.

MARTIN: The tornado hit a week ago today. Wade, as you have had conversations and have gotten around and gotten a sense of the city, how is Joplin dealing with the cleanup at this point?

GOODWYN: Well, it's just overwhelming. I mean, the cleanup is going to go on for a year, at least. Thousands of people came to see the president. They brought signs that said God loves Joplin.

That's a little bit of a response to Westboro Baptist, who was here celebrating the death of those who were killed in the tornado as just punishment for an evil country.

That rankled, as you can imagine. But they were out here to say that's not true, that God loves Joplin, and they love Joplin too.

MARTIN: NPR's Wade Goodwyn with the president in Joplin, Missouri. Thanks very much, Wade.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.

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