Bush visit wows tornado victims
While Greensburg residents concentrated on their mission to salvage any shred of their former lives Wednesday, President Bush focused on his mission to back the community’s determination.
“My mission today is to lift people's spirits the best that I can, to hopefully touch somebody’s soul," the president said during a statement to the press pool after speaking to a gathering of victims in the heart of the town’s residential area. "I want to let them know that even though there was a dark day in the past, there are brighter days ahead.”
Until Bush’s visit, five days after an F-5 tornado razed the south central Kansas town, smiles and words of joy were reserved for times when friends were reunited or a precious treasure was uncovered in the debris. But the president’s arrival marked the first widespread appearance of beaming smiles.
“We’re proud of you and love you,” said a man who approached the president as he visited with the first group of residents in front of the John Deere dealership. Bush offered words of encouragement and hugs to a group of sullen residents.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this’ and that he and the first lady were with us,” said Debra Wilder, whose home was on Grant. “He said he was sorry several times.”
Others who attempted to approach the president from neighboring blocks were either scanned with a metal detector or turned away by Secret Service. But the president still acknowledged the onlookers, waving to them.
As the procession of vehicles winded through the streets of Greensburg, the president was given a peek at the streets and blocks littered with what was once a pleasant rural town of 1,400 residents. Parts of homes sprang up on the streets among the debris. Spray-painted words covered the fronts of some with messages of hope and pride.
“God bless us,” read one. “G-burg Rangers 4-ever,” read another home down the same street. Other messages showed that some residents hadn’t lost their humor. “Please pardon our mess,” read a make-shift sign propped up against a home.
But the president focused on the people, shaking hands, giving out hugs and pats on the back, and even joking with a few.
“You know, you shouldn’t hang that up there,” he joked to one resident, nodding up to a curtain wrapped around the jagged end of a tree limb. People eagerly waved as the motorcade inched through town. Others snapped photos and shot video.
And as Bush approached the corner of Bay and Garfield, a crowd of more than 100 residents gathered.
“Smile everybody,” said one resident as media snapped photos. “I’m so glad I came home today,” another resident commented. But in all the time the president spent in Greensburg, work continued.
Members of the National Guard hacked up tree branches strewn on the ground with chainsaws and residents continued to rummage through their rubble as the president chatted with neighbors.
Some residents paused long enough to catch a peek of Bush and his entourage, but quickly continued work. Just before the president entered an area where several volunteer groups and FEMA are set up near the Kiowa County Courthouse, FEMA workers continued working with residents to help them access assistance.
Some residents said they wished everyone had had the chance to see the president.
“It means a lot to people (that he was here),” said resident Devan Dellenbach, who along with her husband, Josh, just missed the president’s courthouse appearance. “But it would help if everyone could see him.”
But the pair said they understood that the president had to be protected. And despite not seeing Bush in person, the pair said they got the message. “It sends a message to the community that people outside of Kiowa County and outside of Kansas are thinking about us, worrying about us and pledging the prayers for us.