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Storms force Obama to cancel Memorial Day speech

By Abdon M. Pallasch

Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter

ELWOOD, ILL. –Heavy thunderstorms interrupted President Obama’s visit to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., today, and he urged those on hand to take shelter in their cars.

Obama laid a wreath at the tombstones of veterans at the cemetery just after 11 a.m. today. — and just before the skies opened up.

After being escorted to the site by Marines, the president set down the wreath and stood solemnly, looking down, as a single trumpeter played “Taps”. He wore a dark suit, white shirt and maroon tie.

A gentle breeze made the individual American flags in front of each of the headstones flutter under cloudy skies.

Thunder roared ominously as Obama and the other speakers made their way to the stage for the speaking part of the program. Thousands of people waited as bagpipers played.

But Obama could not even begin his speech as heavy rains poured down, drowning out his words. Thunder and lightning interrupted him. He said he did not want to risk anyone’s safety, so he asked people to go back to their cars.

“A little bit of rain doesn’t hurt anybody but we don’t want anyone to be struck by lightning,” Obama said.

“I’d ask everybody to very calmly move back to their cars. I’m going to go back to mine. We will make sure the thunder has passed.”

The president said he’d wait to see if the thunder passes “in the next 15-20 minutes.”

More than 20 minutes later, the thunder, lightning and downpour continue strong.

The wreath the president set up has blown over in the storm.

Complicating the evacuation is that many people parked in remote spots and were shuttled to the ceremony in buses and golf carts.