President Obama tours Oso landslide zone

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EVERETT, Wash. - President Barack Obama spoke in front of a group of first responders and volunteers after touring the Oso landslide zone and speaking to the victims' families.

The president landed at about 12:40 p.m.   He was greeted by a large group of state and federal politicians including Gov. Jay Inslee, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen, Everett mayor Ray Stephanson, Seattle mayor Ed Murray, Major General Bret Dougherty and Jon Lovick, Snohomish County Executive.

Obama almost immediately boarded a Marine helicopter for a short flight to Arlington with the governor and senators Murray and Cantwell.  The group took off for an aerial tour of the landslide area after a short briefing there.

After about 15 minutes of flying time, Marine One flew directly over the site of the landslide. 

After four weeks, the debris field, which is still 30 feet deep in places, looks much the same, despite thousands of hours of backbreaking work by emergency responders and volunteers.

Ripped up trees littered the landscape, and the path of the Stillaguamish River was altered. A one-mile section of Highway 530 was 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. Amid the wreckage, an American flag flew at half-staff.

So far, 41 victims have been found in the debris and mud, but two people remain missing.

After touring the site of the devastation, Obama drove by motorcade to Oso.  While passing through Arlington, he was was greeted by dozens of people lining the streets and waving.

He also passed by a pickup truck in someone's front yard, covered in football memorabilia and signs bearing the name of Jovon Mangual, a teenager who died in the disaster.

After the tour, the president met privately with family members of the landslide victims. 

Obama then spoke briefly at the Oso Fire Station with the emergency responders and some of the volunteers who have been working tirelessly to search for those killed.  

Walls of the fire station are covered in maps and photos of slide scene, along with thank you banners from area schools. People stood on chairs to ensure they could see the president when he arrived. Some of the emergency responders had their cellphone cameras already trained on the empty lectern waiting for the first photo.  Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management director John Pennington was among the crowd.

Although some people have been critical of how long it's taken the president to come see the damage, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin told KIRO 7 that it was probably best to wait so that the focus was on the recovery operation and not the president.

Meanwhile, the cost of the cleanup and recovery effort keeps climbing. Although it's tough to calculate, the estimated cost is now roughly $65 million, according to reports. That's up from $42 million when President Obama issued a major disaster declaration, nearly three weeks ago.

Obama arrived at Paine Field about 5:15 p.m. for his departure. He boarded Air Force One, which took off after 5:30 p.m.

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