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Obama Tours Mudslide Devastation, Pledges Solidarity With Families

President Obama, aboard Marine One, took an aerial tour of devastation caused by a massive mudslide a month ago that left at least 41 people dead near the town of Oso, Wash.

The president, who made a stop in the state on his way to Japan for the start of a four-day visit to Asia, witnessed toppled trees, mud and debris from the March 22 landslide.

"We're going to be strong right alongside you," Obama promised the people of Oso on Tuesday.

Later, at a community church in Oso, Obama promised to stick with the families whose lives were devastated when the rain-soaked hillside gave way.

"The whole country's thinking about you, and we're going to make sure that we're there every step of the way as we go through the grieving, the mourning, the recovery," he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee has asked Obama to declare a major disaster in the state, making it eligible for federal financial aid, including help covering the costs of temporary housing, home repairs and the loss of uninsured property, The Associated Press says.

NPR's Martin Kaste, reporting from the disaster scene, says the site still resembles a muddy bombing range.

"The great mounds of dirt and broken trees are dwarfed by the 600-foot-tall failed hillside where they came from," he reports on Morning Edition. "You see wheels sticking out of the mud, in random spots, detached from their cars. There's a house that looks like it's been through a trash compactor; National Guardsmen gingerly climb over it, probing the gaps with sticks."

Kaste says the stretch of Highway 530 that was inundated by mud and debris will take months to clear, and maybe longer to rebuild, according to the state Department of Transportation.

"Alongside the usual yellow ribbons for the slide's victims, you're starting to see protest signs, calling for speedier action," Kaste says.

As The New York Times points out:

"Anger festers about what might have been done better to warn residents, or protect the community from the slide, which killed 41 people and left two still missing. And fear haunts the voices of many people just miles from the impact zone, who now look up at the steep Cascade mountains with different eyes."

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