- Associated Press - Saturday, May 3, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - President Barack Obama will visit the Arkansas communities that were hit by a deadly tornado, marking his first trip to the state as president, the White House announced Saturday.

The White House and U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor’s office said Obama planned to visit the state Wednesday to survey the damage from Sunday night’s tornado, which killed 15 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. Details were not immediately available on which communities the president would visit.

The White House said Obama planned to meet with families who were affected, first responders and recovery workers.

“I’m pleased the President is headed to Arkansas and can see the devastation firsthand,” Pryor, who invited the president to visit, said in a statement released by his office. “It’ll be a long road to recovery, but we’ll continue to do everything we can to help our neighbors in need.”

The Obama administration has already designated Faulkner County, which was hit hardest, as a major disaster area. The National Weather Service has said the twister was a “high-end” EF4, with winds reaching 166 mph to 200 mph.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson planned to visit Mayflower and Vilonia on Sunday, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate visited the communities the day after the storm hit.

This will be Obama’s first trip as president to Arkansas, a state he lost in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and where he remains deeply unpopular. The last time he visited Arkansas was as a United States senator in 2006 to campaign for Mike Beebe’s successful bid for governor.

Republicans have made major gains in Arkansas by running against the president and his policies, primarily the federal health care law. Pryor, a Democrat, is running for re-election against freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton.


Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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