Thunderstorm forces Obama to cut Memorial Day appearance

McClatchy NewspapersMay 31, 2010 

A violent, fast-developing thunderstorm Monday forced President Barack Obama to cut short his Memorial Day remarks at a national cemetery outside Chicago and urge guests to take shelter in their cars until the storm passed.

Obama had just placed a wreath at the edge of a small burial section in the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and was heading toward the main memorial event when the storm erupted.

"It grew so violent so quickly — lightning everywhere, very heavy, gusting rains — that the White House pulled the president out, but not before he went to the microphone and ordered thousands to get to a place of safety," said a White House pool report.

"Excuse me, everybody listen up," Obama told the audience gathered in the cemetery outside Joliet, Illinois, southwest of Chicago.

"We are a little bit concerned about lightning. This may not be safe. I know that all of you are here to commemorate the fallen . . . . What we'd like to do is if possible have people move back to their cars and if this passes in the next 15-20 minutes I'll stick around."

Obama said he hoped the ceremony could continue. "But we don't want to endanger anyone, particularly the children, in the audience," he said. "A little bit of rain doesn't hurt anybody, but we don't want anybody struck by lightning."

Moments later, the memorial was officially canceled. Obama opted to visit with families board their buses. Obama had just arrived via helicopter from his Chicago home, where he was spending the holiday weekend with family and old friends.

Upon arriving at the cemetery, Obama first went to a small memorial, where he placed a wreath of red and white flowers. A bugler played taps while Obama stood with his eyes shut for a moment.


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