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Bush Tours Tornado-Devastated Town in Midwestern State of Kansas


President Bush offered comfort Wednesday to the victims of one of the worst tornados to hit the United States in years. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House, Mr. Bush spent the day touring the small midwest town of Greensburg, Kansas, where 11 people died and most of the homes and businesses were destroyed by the twister that touched down last Friday.

The president first surveyed the damage by helicopter, flying over devastated homes, and streets littered with rubble.

Then he toured the town by car -- seeing nothing for blocks on end but pulverized homes and cars. In between were tree trunks stripped of limbs and branches.

The brief tour ended at a dealership where farm tractors and other heavy equipment were once sold.

The tornado ripped off the roof, and today the building is filled with broken chunks of metal, pools of water, and pieces of wood. The remaining pieces of equipment sit in various stages of disrepair -- some on their sides, most stripped of paint.

The president spoke privately to some of the survivors of the tornado, and then publicly to reporters. He said in Greensburg, which has suffered so much, the human spirit is intact.

"I am struck by the strength of the character of the people who live here in the Plains -- people who refuse to be -- who refuse to have their spirit affected by this storm; as a matter of fact, who are willing to do what it takes to rebuild in a better way," said President Bush.

Local and state officials who traveled with the president echoed that sense of resolve. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said the town will be rebuilt, but acknowledged no one knows at this point just how much money will be needed.

Earlier, the governor said while the federal government had met all her requests for help, she remains concerned about the foreign deployment of national guard units which typically are used to assist the states during natural disasters.

National guard units and their heavy equipment are normally at the disposal of state governors for use in emergency situations, but many units are now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some Democrats have complained that with another hurricane season coming soon, America's emergency preparedness may be compromised.

President Bush made no mention of the controversy during his visit, though other top administration officials have emphasized that disaster relief services will not be affected. Instead, he took on the role of consoler-in-chief, offering sympathy and moral support to a shattered town.

"My mission today, though, is to lift people's spirits as best I possibly can and to hopefully touch somebody's soul by representing our country, and to let people know that while there was a dark day in the past, there are brighter days ahead," he said.

The president said that although many people were able to wait out the tornado in basements, too many others died and the nation mourns their passing.

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