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Feelings mixed on Obama visit to hard-hit Vilonia

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published May 7, 2014 at 10:13 a.m.


Jonathan Dempsey, center in the blue shirt and hat, works to clear wreckage around his home in the Parkwood Meadows subdivision Wednesday.

April 27th Tornado Retrospective

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff coverage of the deadly EF4 tornado which tore through Central Arkans...

VILONIA — Residents still sorting through the wreckage of their homes more than a week after an EF4 tornado devastated the Parkwood Meadows subdivision had different opinions on President Barack Obama's impending visit to the area Wednesday.

Where Obama goes in his afternoon tour of parts of Arkansas damaged in the April 27 tornado isn't clear, but Parkwood Meadows was among the hardest-hit areas with dozens of homes leveled by winds that are said to have approached 200 mph.

Sixteen people died in the tornado in Pulaski, Faulkner and White counties, making it the deadliest tornado in Arkansas since 1968.

Jonathan Dempsey, 24, wasn't home when the tornado hit, destroying his Parkwood Meadows home on Clover Ridge Road.

Dempsey said seeing the damage to his home and others around him reduced to piles of rubble on concrete slabs was "mind-blowing." The days since the tornado have been "bittersweet," he added, as residents dealt with the destruction and loss but also saw the community come together to overcome the disaster.

He had less kind words for Obama, who he said he suspects planned the visit for political reasons.

"I feel like it's for PR," Dempsey said, taking a break from cleaning up the wreckage of his home. "If he wanted to help, he could have been here last week when people were still on their slabs and mourning the loss of the people who died."

Daniel Smith, whose home on the street suffered substantial damage but is one of the few in the area that won't have to be torn down, said he believes Obama's visit is a positive thing.

Smith survived with his family at a safe room built at Vilonia High School after a tornado three years ago. He estimated 200 people were there with him, including many who returned to destroyed homes.

Smith put out an Arkansas flag in front of his home Wednesday and kept his 9- and 6-year-old boys home with him in case the president came by.

"I'm glad he's coming to show his support," Smith, 36, said. "Whether you support him or disagree or agree with his policies, he's still our president and he deserves respect."

If Obama does go through Clover Ridge Drive, Smith said, he and his kids will "wave, smile and be thankful he came by" the home where the family intends to return.

"We're gonna rebuild it," Smith said. "And we're staying. But this time we're gonna have a storm shelter."


Comments on: Feelings mixed on Obama visit to hard-hit Vilonia

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Displaying 41 - 47 of 47 total comments

NoUserName says... May 7, 2014 at 6:36 p.m.

"Pryor? Absolutely, because the one thing Pryor needs is for Obama to accompany him on a tour of a county where 65% of the voters voted for the other guy."
. was reported that Obama's visit was a direct result of an invitation sent by Pryor. Incidentally, when did respect mean you couldn't criticize or voice an opinion?

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Smash says... May 7, 2014 at 9:53 p.m.

I can not believe how bitter and hateful some of you are. The President of the United States takes time to visit you in your hour of despair and all you think about he has an agenda. And some say just send me a check but you are the same group that says government is too large. Well, just stay bitter. The rest of us will be grateful and move on!

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FreeSpiritMan says... May 7, 2014 at 10:53 p.m.

onlyfair ....... makes a great comment no matter which party he represents. There is a time to come together as one country. At least there use to be.

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FreeSpiritMan says... May 7, 2014 at 11:02 p.m.

Jonathan Dempsey ....... At least he did not do a fly over like Bush did after Katrina.

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LevyRat says... May 8, 2014 at 6:10 a.m.

TAX AND SPEND LIBERAL DEMOCRATS love photo ops ..... remember it's your money that they are spending .......... ooooppss I meant to say, it's money borrowed from the Chinese.

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Populist says... May 8, 2014 at 7:28 a.m.


Obama is looking pretty good this week. The press is trashing Hillary--for Benghazi, which I think is undeserved, and for her comments blaming Monica instead of Bill, which is deserved criticism. The country is rethinking whether they want the Clintons back in the White House. Once the Republicans have picked their nominee, we probably will decide that, yes, we can live with the Clintons again.

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RaylanGivens says... May 8, 2014 at 9:31 a.m.

I will again say I don't think ANY POTUS needs to visit natural disasters and waste taxpayer money. The hatred for whoever our POTUS is at the time from half the country started many years ago. I find it amusing that people think Arkansas is so bad because of comments from a few. I assume these same people believe California is bad because the LA Clippers have a racist owner and Massachusetts is horrible because a black hockey player makes a game winning goal against Boston and he gets thousands of racist tweets (which is a repeat of what happened in Boston in 2011).

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