By Justin Sink
President Obama vowed that the nation would be "strong right alongside" the victims of the Oso, Wash., mudslide after touring the area where a hillside gave way last month and wiped out a small neighborhood, killing at least 41 people.
"The country is thinking about all of you and have been throughout this tragedy," Obama said. "We're not going anywhere. We'll be here as long as it takes."
And Obama said he was "inspired by the incredible way the community has come together."
"This is also what America is all about," he said. "When times get tough, we look out for each other."
Obama spoke at a local fire station shortly after meeting with the families of the victims for more than an hour in the town's community chapel. Before that, Obama flew in Marine One directly over the wreckage, observing how ripped up trees and massive amounts of mud still covered more than a mile of state highway and the remnants of homes.
As the president flew over, excavators remained at work hoping to recover the bodies of two Oso residents who are missing.
Obama said he had been touched by one letter from a local resident who praised excavators for the delicacy and care shown in their recovery efforts.
"This wasn't just a matter of moving earth, this was a matter of making sure we were honoring and respecting the lives that had been impacted," Obama said.
"That says a lot about the character of this place."
Obama made the brief stop in Washington state ahead of a week-long trip to Asia, where he will visit a pair of allies also grappling with disaster. In South Korea, hundreds of people are feared dead after a ferry full of high school students sank off the coast nearly a week ago. Meanwhile, Malaysia continues its search for Flight 370, the Boeing 777 jet that went missing in early March with 239 passengers.