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Obama To Slide Victims, Responders: 'We'll Be Here As Long As It Takes'

President Barack Obama surveyed the damage from the March 22 disaster by helicopter as he traveled Tuesday to meet with those affected by the mudslide. 

Obama met privately with victims and family members before addressing a group of emergency responders at the Oso firehouse. The firehouse was decorated with posters thanking emergency responders and proclaiming “Oso strong.” Obama vowed the country will stand “strong right alongside you.”

"There are still families who are searching for loved ones.  There are families who have lost everything, and it’s going to be a difficult road ahead for them.  And that’s why I wanted to come here — just to let you know that the country is thinking about all of you and have been throughout this tragedy," said the president. "We're very, very proud of you. Michelle and I grieve with you."

The president said the families he met with "showed incredible strength and grace through unimaginable pain and difficulty," and the entire community showed its character in coming together in the aftermath of the tragedy. As recovery efforts move forward, he said the federal government will be there "every step of the way."

"We're not going anywhere. We'll be here as long as it takes," he said. 

Among those in the audience were members of the Snohomish County sheriff’s helicopter team that rescued a toddler boy shortly after the slide. The president was flanked by Gov. Jay Inslee and members of the state’s Congressional delegation. Following Obama’s visit, the delegation announced an additional $7.5 million in federal assistance. 

The president stopped in Washington on his way to Tokyo, the first stop on a four-country visit to the Asia-Pacific region.

The massive mudslide buried dozens of homes. The Snohomish County medical examiner's office has identified 41 victims. Two names remain on a list of missing people. 

Some of the residents from the nearby town of Darrington had the chance to hear the president speak in Oso.

Credit Kyle Stokes

The town of 1,300 is home to several families directly impacted by the deadly mudslide, as well as many rescue workers. The slide over State Route 530 also cut off the main access route to the town. 

Wade Gayler, who runs the American Red Cross’ Darrington operations, said he understands the president’s decision to focus his visit on the site of the slide itself.

“I feel that it’s important for just the people of the community to know that this is valuable enough of his time to come out and spend some time with them, and hear from them what their concerns are,” Gayler said.

Gayler said transportation remains Darrington’s biggest need. SR 530’s closure has greatly increased travel times to cities in the west. Snohomish County’s transit agency has added bus service to Darrington to help alleviate the burden on residents.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.