President Barack Obama met with victims of the recent tornado in Central Arkansas Wednesday (May 7), promising residents in Vilonia and state lawmakers that the federal government will help them rebuild.
“I’m here to make sure they know, and that everyone that has been affected knows, that the federal government is going to be right here until we get these communities rebuilt. Because when something like this happens to a wonderful community like this, it happens to all of us,” Mr. Obama said.
Vilonia and Mayflower were devastated April 27 when an EF-4 tornado tore through the area and left behind a 40-mile path of destruction. Sixteen people were killed.
The president arrived Wednesday afternoon at Little Rock Air Force Base by Air Force One. He took a helicopter for an aerial tour of the storm damage, before landing in Vilonia.
Once on the ground, he met with families who lost everything, including loved ones. “It was very exciting to meet the president,” said tornado victim Daniel Smith.
His family lost everything in the storm. Not only did he shake the Commander-in-Chief’s hand, he sons were also given gifts. “It says the White House. This is the White House, this is where Obama lives,” said Smith’s son.
“He asked if we were okay, he wanted to know that we were alright. He asked how the community was doing and where we are going from here,” said Smith.
President Obama praised the quick relief effort, in which thousands of volunteers gathered right after the storm hit to go house to house searching for injured neighbors. “Some survivors were driven to hospitals by total strangers. Volunteers showed up to help remove debris, hunt for belongings, pick up trash and deliver supplies and water.”
“It is that dedication, that commitment to each other that truly defines this town,” Mr. Obama said. He promised that residents could count on their local assembled officials – Gov. Mike Beebe, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., and Mayor James Firestone – to make sure the town had all necessary resources. In particular, Mr. Obama said that the recovery effort should include a way to help Vilonia get back on its feet while the local sales tax base is decimated.
“I could not be more proud of everybody who’s participated in the recovery process,” the president said.