VILONIA, Ark. (AP) — Surveying the remnants of nature's destructive power in the country's midsection, President Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to residents of tornado-ravaged Arkansas communities that their government will stand with them until they finish rebuilding.
Obama said he wanted to visit this small city about a half-hour north of Little Rock to make sure those grieving the loss of loved ones, their homes and treasured possessions know that they will not be forgotten.
"I'm here to make sure that they know and that everybody who's been affected knows that the federal government's going to be right here until we get these communities rebuilt," Obama said after walking through a subdivision in which just six of its 56 homes had any part still standing after storms tore across the state on April 27, killing 15 people.
"When something like this happens to a wonderful community like this one, it happens to all of us," he said.
Obama first surveyed the rubble by air, peering down from the windows of his helicopter onto a subdivision of short cul-de-sacs that was destroyed. The still-visible rubble was evidence of the random but surgical devastation a twister is capable of.
After meeting privately with grieving families, emergency workers and local officials, Obama set out on foot through a section of Vilonia, where residents felt a sense of deja vu. Four people died after a tornado hit Vilonia in 2011.
"This town has seen more than its fair share of tragedy," Obama observed, speaking in front of the wreckage of destroyed homes. The sunny afternoon beneath a nearly cloudless sky was a sharp contrast to the dark storms that struck less than two weeks ago. "But folks here are tough, they look out for one another and that's been especially clear over the past week."