President Gets Firsthand Look At Tornado Damage In Vilonia

May 7, 2014

A father and two children wait to be greeted by President Obama as he toured a devastated Vilonia neighborhood.
Credit Tamara Keith / NPR News

By air and by foot, President Barack Obama got a look Wednesday at communities in Arkansas that were devastated by last week's deadly tornadoes.

It was his first visit to the state as president, while on his way to California.

Fifteen people were killed in an April 27th tornado outbreak near Little Rock that destroyed hundreds of homes.

Surveying the destruction by helicopter, Obama flew over a subdivision of short cul-de-sacs that was destroyed. He took a walking tour in Vilonia, a small city north of Little Rock that suffered the most extensive damage from the storms.

Obama also met with families who were affected by the tornado, first responders and recovery workers.

The President told residents their government will be with them until they rebuild. He said a lot of repair and rebuilding remains to be done, but that he came to remind residents they won't be doing the work alone. Obama says when something like this happens to a wonderful place like Vilonia, "it happens to all of us."

Among the Arkansas politicians who are accompanying Obama is Sen. Mark Pryor. The Democrat is running for a third term against Republican Congressman Tom Cotton. His willingness to appear with Obama contrasts with other Democrats in difficult races who have chosen to keep their distance from the president. Obama lost Arkansas in both elections, and polls show he remains deeply unpopular in the state.

Air Force One landed around midday Wednesday at the Little Rock Air Force Base. After exiting the plane, Obama greeted Pryor, Gov. Mike Beebe, Congressman Tim Griffin and other leaders.

Residents of area where Obama hasn't been popular say they're still pleased that the president stopped by to tour the damage and speak with those affected by last week's

In the last presidential election, Obama lost the Faulkner County vote by a 2-1 margin against his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. And in 2008, Obama also lost the county's vote by a 3-2 margin against GOP presidential candidate John McCain.

While one Vilonia resident who met with the president says he was appreciative of Obama's visit, another woman said she knew of a few people who were leaving town because they disagreed politically with Obama.