President Barack Obama is on a four-nation tour of Asia, visiting Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. On his way to Asia, the president stopped in the northwestern state of Washington to visit an area struck by deadly landslides last month. The landslides, caused by days of torrential rain, destroyed dozens of homes and killed at least 41 people. During his visit late Tuesday, Obama also met with the victims' families, first responders and recovery workers.
On arrival at a local airport, President Obama was greeted by a group of state and local leaders. Almost immediately, the president boarded a helicopter that flew him over the site of last month's landslides near the town of Oso. After surveying the damage and meeting privately with the victims' families, Obama addressed an audience at a local fire station.
"I have to say that the families I met with showed incredible strength and grace through unimaginable pain and difficulty. Uniformly, though, they all want to say thank you to the first responders. They were deeply appreciative of the efforts that everybody is making. And I know that the first responders may have heard that directly, but it doesn't hurt to repeat that we are very appreciative of what you've done," said Obama.
The piles of debris and mud remain high a month after the landslides, despite cleanup efforts by emergency crews and volunteers. But thanks to workers' efforts, water that was almost two meters high in some places has now drained, allowing better access to heavy equipment. Obama praised the coordination and cooperation among various groups and organizations involved in the recovery effort.
"Today, that work continues. There are still families 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 of all of you, and have been throughout this tragedy. We are not going anywhere, we'll be here as long as it takes because while very few Americans have heard of Oso before this disaster struck, we've all been inspired by the incredible way that the community has come together and shown the love and support they have for each other in ways large and small," said Obama.
The rain-softened hillside gave way on March 22, with heaps of mud and water pouring over roads and homes in a rural area north of the city of Seattle. First responders and volunteers dug through the mud, logs and debris to reach survivors. So far, 41 victims have been found in the disaster area, but at least two other people remain missing. Washington state officials say the cost of the cleanup and recovery is climbing, and is expected to be much higher than the original estimate of $42 million.