(WEST, Texas) — Taking on the role of consoler-in-chief for the second time in two weeks, President Obama Thursday sought to comfort mourners at a memorial service for the firefighters killed in last week’s fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
“We are here to say you are not alone,” the president said. “You are not forgotten. We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors too. We’re Americans too. And we stand with you and we do not forget.”
The April 17 blast killed at least 14 and injured hundreds, devastating the town of West.
“This small town’s family is bigger now. It extends beyond the boundaries of West. And in the days ahead, this love and support will be more important than ever because there will be moments of doubt and pain, the temptation to wonder how this community will ever fully recover,” the president said as he stood before the flag-draped caskets of the 12 firefighters who died fighting the blaze. “But today I see in the people of West, in your eyes, that what makes West special isn’t going to go away.”
The president praised the close-knit community, saying that “instead of changing who you are, this tragedy has simply revealed who you’ve always been.”
“America needs communities where there’s always somebody to call if your car gets stuck or your house gets flooded. We need people who so love their neighbors as themselves that they’re willing to lay down their lives for them. America needs towns like West,” he said to applause. “That’s what makes this country great, is towns like West.”
The president’s remarks came exactly one week after he attended a memorial service for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. “While the eyes of the world may have been fixed on places far away, our hearts have also been here in your time of tribulation,” Obama said Thursday. “And even amidst such sorrow and so much pain, we recognize God’s abundance.”
The president got a firsthand look at the devastation in West. On his way to Waco, his helicopter circled above the flattened buildings and scorched remains of the blast. The president and first lady were set to meet with the victims’ families.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Danica Lawrence, Fox 13 Utah
AnneClaire Stapleton, CNN
Ralph Ellis, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN