President Barack Obama’s speech at the Oso Fire Station, Tuesday, April 22, 2014:
Well, good afternoon, everybody. I just had a chance to tour some of the damage from last month’s mudslide. And, most importantly, I had a chance to spend some time with the families whose loved ones have been lost. I also had a chance to thank some of the amazing first responders, the firefighters, police officers, search and rescue crews, and members of the Washington National Guard who have been working around the clock to help this community recover from this devastating incident.
Governor Inslee, Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell, Congresswoman DelBene, Congressman Larsen, and the rest of the elected officials who are here, they’ve been relentless in making sure that Oso had the resources that it needs. And from the day of the tragedy, I’ve instructed my team to make sure that they get what they need to make sure that the search and rescue mission is going forward the way it should.
A FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team was on the ground immediately after the mudslide, and a search and rescue team was deployed to help locate and recover victims. We immediately approved an emergency declaration to provide additional resources to state and local responders. And I followed that by approving a major disaster declaration to help residents and business owners rebuild, and to help state and local and tribal governments with emergency work.
Today, that work continues. 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. And that’s why I wanted to come here — just to let you know that the country is thinking about all of you and have been throughout this tragedy.
We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here as long as it takes. Because while very few Americans have ever heard of Oso before the disaster struck, we’ve all been inspired by the incredible way that the community has come together and shown the love and support that they have for each other in ways large and small.
Over the past month, we’ve seen neighbors and complete strangers donate everything from chain saws to rain jackets to help with the recovery effort. We’ve seen families cook meals for rescue workers. We’ve seen volunteers pull 15-hour days, searching through mud up to 70 feet deep. One resident said, “We’re Oso. We just do it.” That’s what this community is all about. And I think the outstanding work of (Oso Fire Chief) Willy Harper here helping to coordinate all of this — I was saying, he’s a pretty young sheriff, but he has shouldered this burden in an incredible way. And we’re very, very proud of him, as we are of all the local responders.
This is family. And these are folks who love this land, and it’s easy to see why — because it’s gorgeous. And there’s a way of life here that’s represented. And to see the strength in adversity of this community I think should inspire all of us, because this is also what America is all about.
When times get tough, we look out for each other. We get each other’s backs. And we recover and we build, and we come back stronger. And we’re always reminded that we’re greater together. That’s how we’ll support each other every step of the way.
I have to say that the families that I met with showed incredible strength and grace through unimaginable pain and difficulty.
Uniformly, though, they all wanted to say thank you to the first responders. They were deeply appreciative of the efforts that everybody has made. And I know that many of the first responders have heard that directly, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat that we’re very appreciative of what you’ve done.
And I also want to say that some terrific lessons were learned in the midst of very hard times during this process, because almost uniquely, we had not just coordination between state, local and federal officials, but also coordination between volunteers and those officials. And I know that it required some improvisation and some kinks getting worked out, but it was important for the family members themselves and the community themselves to be hands-on and participate in this process — particularly a community like this one where folks are hearty and know how to do things, and take great pride in being self-reliant. It was important that they weren’t just bystanders in this process, they were involved every step of the way.
One last point I’ll make. I’ve received a number of letters from residents — either Darrington, or Arlington, or Oso itself — over the last several weeks, and one in particular struck me. It was from a firefighter who I may have met today; he didn’t identify himself. But he pointed out how those who were operating the heavy machinery during this whole process did so with an incredible care and delicacy because they understood that this wasn’t an ordinary job, this wasn’t just a matter of moving earth; that this was a matter of making sure that we were honoring and respecting the lives that had been impacted.
And two things were of note in that letter: Number one, that this firefighter pointed out properly the incredible work that’s been done under very tough circumstances. Number two, he was pointing out what others were doing, not what he was doing. And to see a community come together like this and not be interested in who’s getting credit, but just making sure that the job gets done, that says a lot about the character of this place.
And so we’re very, very proud of all of you. Michelle and I grieve with you. The whole country is 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. We’re going to be strong right alongside you.
Thank you very much. God bless you. God bless America. Thank you.