Tuesday, May 06, 2014

TOP STORY >> Obama flies to base for storm visit

President Barack Obama will land at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville around 11:30 a.m. today as he prepares to tour tornado-ravaged areas of central Arkansas.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) invited the president to visit the hardest-hit towns, including Vilonia in Faulkner County.

Faulkner County was declared a disaster area two days after the tornado swept through on April 27.

It also touched down in El Paso in White County, where Paula Blakemore was killed.

White County was declared a disaster area on Monday, along with Pulaski and Randolph counties.

The 42-mile-long EF4 tornado with 166-200 mph winds killed 16 people, making it the deadliest in Arkansas since 1968, according to National Weather Service data.

It was the first EF4 in the U.S. this year and the third strongest in Arkansas since 2000.

Faulkner County officials on Sunday reported that more than 800 homes were destroyed or damaged by the tornado. Of those, 418 were completely destroyed.

FEMA had approved $1.2 million in assistance for 850 victims who registered to receive it as of Monday, according to public information officer Dan Martinez.

Of that, Martinez said $1.01 million was for damage to homes and $198,711 was for other needs, like personal belongings, medical and funeral expenses.

According to a FEMA news release, applicants who request an inspection can expect a quick response time of four hours and 48 minutes.

In fact, the first funds were approved and the FEMA staff completed the first inspection less than 26 hours after the tornado hit the area.

There are three mobile units where victims can register for assistance. They are at First Assembly of God Church, 851 Main St. in Vilonia; 607 Hwy. 365 in Mayflower and First Baptist Church, 1206 Main St. in Vilonia.

They can also register by calling 501-621-3362 or online.

Vilonia was also devastated by a 2011 tornado that killed four people. The town has been hit by five tornadoes since 1950, according to the National Weather Service.

There were 117 FEMA boots on the ground in Arkansas last week, Martinez noted, and more were on their way.

Volunteers are asked to check in at Beryl Baptist, 863 Hwy. 64B in Vilonia; Mayflower Outdoors, 57 Interstate Drive in Mayflower and Home Depot, 500 Elsinger Blvd. in Conway.

Today’s presidential tour will be the first time Obama has visited the state since being elected in 2008.

President Clinton flew into Little Rock Air Force Base on Air Force One in July 1998. He took time to talk to airmen and well-wishers on the flight line.

“I’m proud of the role this base is playing in advancing the cause of freedom,” Clinton told the large crowd.

Michelle Obama visited the air base in February 2012, when she toured the new Hercules dining facility and praised the nutritious food that is served there.

Little Rock Air Force Base was one of the first to introduce healthier menus on military bases. The program is spreading to some 1,000 other military dining halls. It is the first military-menu upgrade in two decades.

Col. Brian (Smokey) Robin-son, who has since been promoted to brigadier general, hosted the first lady’s visit and led a discussion about the importance of serving healthier meals to service members.

“You’re ahead of the curve,” Mrs. Obama told airmen at the base. “This is due to the foresight of your commanders.”

Vice President Al Gore flew into the air base in May 2000 to discuss veterans issues at VFW Post 4548 in north Jacksonville.

Vice President Dan Quayle landed at the air base in July 1990 on his way for a speech in Little Rock.

Leader publisher Garrick Feldman contributed to this report.