April 25, 2013

Obama consoles families, survivors of Texas blast

By Danny Robbins and Josh Lederman / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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President Obama attends the memorial for firefighters killed at the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, on Thursday.

The Associated Press

Obama's solemn reflections at the memorial required an abrupt shift in tone by the president, whose morning in Dallas was filled with smiles, music and pageantry as he and the other four living presidents celebrated one of their own. Less than an hour later, Obama was airborne over West, circling the scene of the explosion – still a harrowing site more than a week after tragedy first touched the small Texas town.

From his helicopter, Obama saw what looked like a massive construction site, with cranes and dozens of vehicles dotting a wide swath of brown earth. Piles of burnt rubble and scorched earth were clearly visible. Obama could also see the school field first responders used as a staging ground.

Obama has made such a trip countless times before, touring damage and consoling survivors of other disasters including Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and a string of mass shootings. It was just one week ago that Obama was in Boston, offering solace to the nation at a memorial for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, another larger-than-life tragedy that compounded the nation's grief the same week as the explosion in West.

After the service, the president and first lady were planning to visit privately with relatives and friends of firefighters killed in the explosion, the White House said.

Fire trucks and other first responders' vehicles paraded through Waco en route to the ceremony at Baylor's sports arena. The vehicles entered under an archway formed by the ladders from two fire trucks with an American flag hung between them. Many of the mourners wore the uniforms of police, firefighters and paramedics and wiped tears from their eyes.

Brian Crawford, fire chief in the Dallas suburb of Plano, attended with 11 others from his department even though they live 100 miles from West.

"With these unfortunate circumstances, it's time to show we are all a family," Crawford said. "These were our brothers and they paid the price."

As the service drew to a close, a bell was rung once for each victim, reverberating through the hall and setting off a long moment of silence.

Then, with hushed sobs breaking the quiet, a loudspeaker re-enacting a dispatcher's radio identified the victims one by one, calling each firefighter to duty for the last time:

"Until we meet again. Dispatch clear."

 

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