Bush views area damaged by tornado

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

PIERCE CITY, Mo. -- Standing in a driving rainstorm, President Bush surveyed the devastation from a huge tornado Tuesday and pledged that "we're going to rebuild this city." He promised to do what he could to cut through federal paperwork to get the job done.

Bush toured the wrecked downtown of this town of 1,400, where nearly every building was damaged or destroyed and met with victims, rescue workers and other townspeople.

"I'm sorry I'm here under such circumstances," he told a gathering in the gymnasium of St. Mary's Catholic Church, one of the few buildings left standing after the tornado struck on May 4.

In Missouri to view damage from one storm, Bush ran into another -- a thunderstorm that soaked his entourage as he looked at the damage. He also took a helicopter tour of the area.

Inside the church, he said, "Many people around this country saw the devastation."

But, he added, "They didn't see what I've seen because you can't tell how bad it is until you actually come here to Pierce City and see it yourself."

"You can't realize what it's like to see a tornado go right down the main street of a town and just wipe it out," Bush said in a room filled with tables piled high with food, blankets and other supplies.

Bush said he found it "uplifting that in the midst of tragedy, amongst people who have lost their homes, in some cases their loved one or their businesses, lost their possessions, that we gather to comfort each other and to find help in the house of the Lord."

He landed in the nearby community of Monett, where he was briefed by Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who described the path of destruction on a large map.

From there, the president's motorcade drove the short distance to Pierce City and stopped at the church, which has fed 500 to 700 people daily since the tornado struck.

Bush told the residents that Americans were praying for them, and he promised to make sure the government quickly processed paperwork needed for disaster assistance.

He said what he wanted to know was, "Is the government moving fast enough? And some of you said yes, and some of you said no. And for the ones who said no, we will do everything we can to get you what you're owed."

Bush began his day in Indianapolis, where he continued his campaign for his tax-cut plan.

He also decried the terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia that took several American lives, saying the car bombings were "committed by killers whose only faith is hate."

In Pierce City, he said the United States would catch the terrorists as surely as the town would be rebuilt.

"It doesn't take a lot of money to put a car bomb together," he said. "It takes hate."

"In the meantime, my heart is right here," he said.

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