President Obama visited the site of last month's deadly mudslide in Washington state Tuesday, telling the devastated community of Oso that the federal government would stand by it "every step of the way" as it recovers.
"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," Obama told emergency responders and recovery workers. "And that's why I wanted to come here. Just to let you know the country is thinking about all of you and has been throughout this tragedy. We're not going anywhere. We will be here as long as it takes."
The president toured the devastation in the rural community of Oso, one month after a hillside gave way and wiped out a neighborhood in the community about 60 miles from Seattle.
The death toll from the mudslide stands at 41, and two people remain missing, according to the Snohomish County government.
Shortly after arriving, Obama took an aerial tour of the debris field. From the air, he could see fallen trees littering the landscape and a 1-mile section of highway covered in mud and debris.
He met privately for more than an hour with families who lost loved ones in the slide before delivering public remarks at the Oso Fire Department before a crowd that included a few dozen first responders to the catastrophe, as well as other community members.
He paid tribute to those who helped with the recovery and spoke of a letter he received from a firefighter who described to him the care that operators of heavy machinery demonstrated as they sifted through the dense debris to recover the missing.
"They understood that this wasn't an ordinary job," Obama said. "This wasn't a matter of just moving earth. This was a matter of honoring and respecting the lives that had been impacted."
Obama, who made the stop in Oso en route to Asia, spent about five hours on the ground in Washington.
State officials suggested they were relieved that the president — who by necessity travels with a large entourage and heavy security — waited to visit the devastation.
"The activity that's going on is less, so (Obama) won't be disrupting any activity as far as recovery effort," said Oso Fire Chief Willie Harper. "If he would have been here that first week, it would have been a major concern because everything gets shut down when he comes in. So I believe his timing is absolutely perfect."
After the Washington state visit, Obama departed for a week-long trip to Asia, which includes stops in Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines.
Malaysia and South Korea are dealing with the aftermath of major transportation catastrophes — the sinking of a ferry full of high schoolers in South Korea and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.