U.S. President Barack Obama got a close look as the devastation caused by tornadoes that ripped through several Arkansas communities and promised the full help of the federal government in the recovery.
Obama took an aerial tour that followed the tornado’s path through central Arkansas and then met privately with families affected by the disaster. Fifteen people were killed by the twisters April 27 near Little Rock and hundreds of homes were destroyed.
He also walked through the now-vacant Parkwood Meadows subdivision of the town of Vilonia, where 56 homes were demolished by the storms. Only six houses there have any parts of their structures still standing, with roofs damaged, windows broken and garage doors bent at unnatural angles.
“The long recovery process is just beginning,” Obama said in Vilonia. “The federal government’s going to be right here until we get these communities rebuilt.”
Obama was accompanied by Governor Mike Beebe and Senator Mark Pryor, both Democrats, and Republican Representative Tim Griffin.
The stop is Obama’s first in Arkansas as president and comes at the start of a trip mostly focused on the midterm congressional elections.
Pryor is seeking a third term and is in a close contest with Republican Representative Tom Cotton. His is one of 21 Senate seats Democrats are defending in November. Republican need a net gain of six to gain control of the chamber.
With Obama’s approval ratings below 50 percent since last June in Gallup’s daily tracking poll, some Democratic candidates have shied away from appearing with the president. While today isn’t being conducted as a campaign event, Pryor in the past has distanced himself from Obama on some issues, including the administration’s push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Obama added Arkansas to a previously planned three-day trip to California dominated by fundraising for Democratic House and Senate campaign committees and the national party.
Tonight, Obama will raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the home of Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and his wife Cindy. Tonight’s stop is the first of five fundraising stops scheduled in California this week.
Afterward, Obama is scheduled to be the featured speaker at the 20th anniversary gala of the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, which documents Holocaust survivors’ stories. Movie producer and director Steven Spielberg, the institute’s founder, is presenting Obama with an Ambassador for Humanity Award.
Obama is spending the entire day tomorrow speaking to donors from Los Angeles to San Jose.
Before returning to Washington on May 9, Obama plans to talk about energy efficiency at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. store in Mountain View, home to Google Inc.’s headquarters. Obama has singled out Costco Wholesale Corp., a Wal-Mart competitor for big-box retailing, in speeches this year for paying its workers more than the minimum wage.