President Obama on Thursday told mourners in Texas that the nation is grieving with them after the massive fertilizer plant explosion last week that killed 14 people and wounded hundreds in the town of West.
"We are here to say you are not alone, you are not forgotten," Mr. Obama said at the memorial service honoring the 12 first responders and two civilians, posthumously named volunteer first responders, who died in the blast. Twelve flag-draped coffins were positioned in front of the stage where the president spoke. Nearly 10,000 people were present for the memorial service at Baylor University in nearby Waco, Texas.
"We'll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere," Mr. Obama said. "Your country will remain ever ready to help you rebuild and reclaim your community."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama joined all the other living U.S. presidents in Dallas for the dedication of former President George W. Bush's presidential library. The president said his predecessors sent their thoughts and prayers. He said Mr. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush had fond memories of West.
West is special for its tight-knit community, Mr. Obama said, praising the first responders who were "willing to lay down their lives" for their neighbors and rushed to put out the fire at the fertilizer plant on April 17.
"America needs towns like West," Mr. Obama said. "That's what makes this country great, towns like West."
On his way to Waco, Mr. Obama's helicopter passed over the site of the explosion, circling it a few times to view the leveled buildings. After the memorial service, Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited privately with the loved ones of the firefighters who were killed in the plant explosion.
"This small town's family is bigger now, it extends beyond the boundaries of West," Mr. Obama said at the service.