President Obama met Tuesday with families of victims of and first responders to a March mudslide that killed 41 people and left two missing, telling the community that America will be behind them for as long as it takes to recover.
Obama spoke at the Oso community chapel, where a few dozen first responders sat in folding chairs, including some of the pilots who flew in to extract mudslide victims as well as members of the Washington Conservation Corps and FEMA Corps. A banner declaring “Oso Strong” stretched across the opening of the firehouse, with a bright red Snohomish County Fire District 25 truck parked right outside.
"To see the strength in adversity in this community, I think, should inspire all of us because this is also what America is all about," Obama said.
Obama spent about an hour and 15 minutes meeting with the families of those who died in the mudslide.
The families, Obama said, “showed incredible strength and a grace through unimaginable pain and difficulty. Uniformly, though, they wanted to say thank you to the first responders. They were deeply appreciative to all of the efforts that so many have made”
Obama cited a letter that he received from an unidentified firefighter.
The firefighter wrote that people operating machinery were doing so with the utmost care and delicacy while trying to find victims.
"“This wasn’t just a mater of moving earth. This was a matter of making sure we were honoring and respecting the lives that had been impacted," Obama said.
Obama viewed the damage by helicopter. Here is a report from our colleague Juliet Eilperin in Oso:
"The impact of the one-month-old disaster was still fresh, with a swath of mud and debris covering the mountainside. Ripped-up trees littered the landscape, and the path of the Stillaguamish River was altered. A one-mile section of a state highway was covered in mud and debris. A couple of bright-yellow excavators could be seen operating below, digging in the earth as part of the ongoing effort to recover the bodies of those who died. Amid the wreckage, an American flag flew at half staff."
Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One that Obama is stopping at the scene on his way to Asia “to view first-hand the aftermath of the terrible tragedy” and “meet directly with those who have lost loved ones” in the mudslide, and those who responded to the natural disaster.
Obama arrived at the Oso community chapel at 2:10 p.m. local time to meet with the families. Onlookers, many waving and snapping photos, lined the road as the president drove to the chapel. Signs along the road displayed different messages related to the disaster, including "God bless Oso families" and "Thank you for your prayers and support."