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April 22, 2014 at 1:02 PM

Obama to Oso: ‘Whole country thinking about you’

Marine One, carrying President Obama, takes an aerial tour of the site of the deadly mudslide. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Marine One, carrying President Obama, takes an aerial tour of the site of the deadly mudslide. (Associated Press, pool /Carolyn Kaster)

UPDATE at 4:20 p.m.: | President Obama has met with the families of the missing and dead from the Oso mudslide, and stopped to thank first-responders gathered at the Oso Fire Station.

Obama said the “strength in adversity” demonstrated by the community “should be an inspiration to all of us.”

“The whole country is thinking about you,” the president said.

Before his remarks at the fire station, President Obama spent nearly an hour and fifteen minutes with relatives of those who perished in last month’s mudslide.

President Obama arrived at the Oso Fire Station just after 4 p.m. to meet the first-responders and the community. An “Oso Strong” sign hung in the background. Out on the debris field where rescuers continue to search for the missing, an American flag hung at half-mast from a tree trunk.

The president’s brief remarks were marred only by his repeated mispronunciation of the town name, Oso, which Obama pronounced “AH-so.”

A few dozen first-responders sat in folding chairs, including some of the pilots who helped extract mudslide victims, as well as members of the Washington Conservation Corps and FEMA Corps.

In addition, there were state and local officials who are helping members of the community recover financially from the disaster, such as representatives from the Small Business Administration and the state’s unemployment agency.

Original post: | President Obama’s helicopter is back on the ground and the president’s motorcade is now preparing to drive to the Oso Fire Station where the president and his entourage of public officials are set to meet with survivors of last month’s tragic mudslide and the rescuers who have labored nonstop for the past month trying to recover the missing.

Marine One, the president’s helicopter, was in the air for about 15 minutes after leaving Everett’s Paine Field before it was over the site of the slide, along state Highway 530 between Arlington and Darrington.

According to a pool reporter, the evidence of the impact of the month-old disaster was still fresh, with a swath of mud and debris covering what was once the Steelhead Haven community. Ripped up trees littered the landscape, and the path of the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River was altered. A one-mile section of a state highway is 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. A total of 41 bodies of have been pulled from the mud, with another two believed to be missing at the site.

Amid the wreckage, an American flag flew at half-staff.

Marine One touched down on a landing zone at approximately 1:31 p.m. for the visit to the Oso Fire Station.

The president arrived at Paine Field on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted by local and federal officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee,  Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Rep. Suzan DelBene.

The president, Gov. Inslee and sens. Murray and Cantwell then climbed aboard the president’s helicopter for a flyover of the site of one of the state’s worst natural disasters.

In Arlington Tuesday morning, a dozen or more people drifted in and out of Legion Park in the city’s little downtown, wondering whether Obama’s motorcade might come through there on the way to Oso.

Bill and Judy Parker of Cashmere were on their way home from a visit to the west side of the mountains and decided to swing through Arlington to see if they could see the president. They planned to eat somewhere
in Arlington as a way to support the business community.

Beth Quam, of Lake Stevens, took the day off work from Providence Hospital in hopes of glimpsing Obama. She and two friends, Jeanne Berry and Katelyn Gross, all knew somebody who had been killed in the slide.

As the time of the president’s visit approached, a growing  group of National Guard troops, firefighters, state patrol and local police gathered in Legion Park’s parking lot, which was closed with barricades.

Natascha Roehl and her daughter Jessica grew sober when they  talked about two slide victims they knew. But they were also delighted by the sight of an Osprey helicopter that flew over Arlington. Shortly after the Osprey flew by, two helicopters flew diagonally across Arlington, one of them carrying Obama.

“I just can’t imagine everything that goes into  orchestrating something like this,” said Natascha Roehl of Obama’s visit.

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert earlier praised the president for his quick approval of a federal disaster declaration, authorizing the expenditure of federal funds to help those hurt by the slide.

“We understand this was one of the fastest tracks that’s ever been done on,” she said.

Tolbert said those who have lost loved ones in the slide say they feel comforted by the president’s willingness to meet with them in person.

In Arlington, the president’s motorcade awaited his arrival after the flyover, ready for his drive to the Oso Fire Station. A pool report says Secret Service agents gave the motorcade cars a dust-off and applied a presidential seal decal.  Officials can be seen on airport building roofs, scanning the sky. Marysville firefighters watch from the tarmac. The crowd in the parking lot continued to grow, hemmed in by squad cars.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: Oso mudslide, President Obama


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