US President Barack Obama hailed the selfless dedication of the US military’s “9/11 generation,” on a scorchingly hot Independence Day holiday on Wednesday.
In a speech steeped in patriotic fervor barely four months before a general election, Obama hosted a barbecue and fireworks at the White House, seeking to lift the mood after storms forced many US states to cancel their celebrations.
More than 1 million customers remain without power five days after hurricane-force winds tore across the country, wreaking havoc from Illinois to Ohio to Kentucky and causing destruction in and around Washington.
The consequent lack of air conditioning made Wednesday a miserable day off for many, but Obama focused his attention on the military, while praising Americans for organizing family gatherings.
“Happy Fourth of July, everybody,” the president, alongside US first lady Michelle Obama, told his guests on the White House lawn, thanking all three armed services and the US Coast Guard for their dedication to duty.
“All the men and women who stand with us here this afternoon are an example of this generation of heroes — this 9/11 generation that has earned its place in history alongside the greatest generations,” Obama said.
Although the capital’s massive fireworks show was scheduled to start at 9:10pm, other displays were canceled because of the chaos caused by last week’s fatal storm — 20 deaths have been -attributed to the weather.
Falling trees snapped power lines and companies struggled to restore power to many families, sweating again in sweltering conditions on Wednesday as the mercury soared back above 32oC.
West Virginia, one of nine states heavily impacted, had the highest number of customers without power with about 317,000, according to a US Department of Energy statement on Wednesday morning.
In Chicago, the sizzling heat could make this year’s holiday the hottest in a century.
Elsewhere, in arid areas such as Colorado where wildfires have been raging, firework celebrations, an annual draw for young and old alike, were scrapped to avoid sparking more blazes that have already left hundreds homeless.
The US election heat also intensified as Obama and presumptive Republican nominee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney sought to capitalize on the patriotic undertones of the day, which marks the 236th year of independence from Britain.
Obama held a naturalization ceremony for active duty members in the White House mid-morning.
His speech to people who had immigrated from as far afield as Guatemala, Nigeria and Ukraine was a clear nod to a recent shift in his administration’s immigration policy that could help the Democrat secure a second term.
Romney, taking a week off to spend time with his family at an upscale lakeside property in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, was scheduled to take part in a parade in the New England town as cameras rolled.
“As we gather to enjoy food and fireworks, let us also take a moment to pay tribute to the patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence — and the brave men and women who have fought to protect our freedoms through every generation that has followed,” he said in a statement.
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