President Obama on Wednesday toured streets strewn with debris and wrecked homes in Vilonia, Ark., promising the federal government would help the town recover from a tornado that killed 15 people last month.
In brief remarks from a rubble-filled subdivision, Obama said he’d come to make sure the victims know “your country is going to be there for you.”
“Because when something like this happens to a wonderful community like this one, it happens to all of us,” he said.
The president’s trip was his first to Arkansas as president; Obama had little reason to campaign in the Republican-leaning state in 2012.
He was greeted at the airport by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, and Rep. Tim Griffin, a Republican. Obama viewed the storm-damaged homes north of Little Rock from Marine One, the presidential helicopter, before meeting with first responders and victims' families in Vilonia, where a twister upended cars and leveled buildings on April 27. He later walked the battered area, navigating through the piles of wood, trash and water-logged belongings.
Obama noted that the disaster was compounded by the fact that many in Vilonia had just rebuilt from another severe tornado three years ago.
“Folks here are tough. They look out for one another, and that's been especially clear the past week,” Obama said. “I’m here to remind them that they’re not doing this work alone.”
More than 400 federal emergency workers have been deployed in the South and Southeast, where storms hit several communities late last month, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday.
The president issued a major disaster declaration for the region. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited last week.
Obama made his brief stop on the way to Southern California, where he is scheduled to raise money for Democratic candidates. He is due to land in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening.