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Spin Control

Obama in Oso: Reports from the pool

Marine One flies over the site of the March 22 mudslide taking President Obama to Oso on April 22. (AP)
Marine One flies over the site of the March 22 mudslide taking President Obama to Oso on April 22. (AP)

Marine One flies over the site of the March 22 mudslide taking President Obama to Oso. AP PHOTO

President Obama stopped in Washington state on his way to Asia, landing in Everett and traveling to Oso to see the devastation of last month's mudslide and talk to some of the surviving families and the people who responded to the disaster.

As is typical for a presidential visit, the White House sent out a "pool report" from a small group of journalists assigned to travel to the remote locations, to avoid having the entire press horde showing up in some place like Oso. Spin Control provides the relevant pool reports, along with some tweets from Northwest reporters, to keep you updated on the visit.

Obama leaves for Asia

5:20 pm pool report: President Obama exited Marine One with Gov. Jay Inslee and headed for Air Force One. He shook hands with the governor, gave him a brief hug, and headed up the stairs to board the plane. The senior staffers who accompanied him from Washington DC then followed. We are rolling, headed for Tokyo.-- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.

Arlington departure

5 p.m.: Obama and others left landing field in Arlington, headed for Paine Field in Everett where Air Force One is parked. 

In Oso

4:50 p.m. Pool report: Obama spoke to fire fighters and paramedics at the Oso firehouse, standing under a handmade banner that read "Oso Strong" next to a bright red Snohomish County fire truck. The walls of the firehouse were papered with signs thanking the search and rescue volunteers, including a twenty-foot yellow banner covered with the handprints of elementary school children. 
For several members of the crowd of 75, it was the first time they'd taken a break to do anything besides eat or sleep since the disaster took place. "We've been working together for weeks, but this is the first time I feel we've really come together," said William Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, gesturing toward the Navy aviators sitting next to him. "It feels like part of a healing process". . . 

To read more items, a transcript of the president's speech,  or to comment, continue inside the blog: 

. . . Clustered in the back of the firehouse were half a dozen Americorps workers wearing day-glo vest, their uniforms in the search and recovery effort. For 14 days at a stretch, they've been mapping the area and installing pumps to drain water to make it easier to search the area.
For people who have been so consumed by the dirty, intense work, the president's visit was a reminder that the outside world is still paying attention, said Derek Voelker, a Marine who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 before returning home to nearby Monroe. "This day is kind of a marker, in a way," said Voelker. "The work is starting to wrap up. Things are never going to get back to normal here, but we are moving on."
Major General Bret Dougherty, the adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, said in an interview that there have been 900 people working on the scene over the past month, including 630 Guard soldiers and airmen. Dougherty, who met Obama when he arrived on Air Force One, said he thanked the president for coming. “It meant a lot to our soldiers and airmen.”
While the immediate recovery operation is almost complete, Dougherty said, “Now the real work begins, in long-term recovery. There’s going to be quite a lot of work that needs to be done.” Obama, other officials and pool are headed back to the landing zone. -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.

4:15 p.m.: Obama arrives at fire station, begins speaking, explaining what the federal government has done to help. "We'll be here as long as it takes." Praises the volunteers and residents who have responded to the disaster. "People love this land and it's easy to see why. because it's gorgeous...This is what America is all about. When times get tough, we work together."  Promises to be with the community "every step of the way." Shakes hands with the state and local elected officials standing behind him and with the first responders in the crowd and poses for a picture with some youngsters in the crowd. Leaves at 4:25

Here's the transcript of his speech, from the White House Press Office:

 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 chainsaws 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 Sheriff 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.  

3:55 p.m. pool report: After spending about one hour and fifteen minutes with relatives of those who perished in last month’s mudslide, President Obama came to the Oso Fire Department at roughly 3:30 pm PT to address first responders and members of the community. A few dozen first responders sat in folding chairs, including some of the pilots who flew in to extract mudslide victims as well as members of the Washington Conservation Corps and FEMA Corps. In addition there are state and local officials who are helping members of the community recover financially from the disaster, such as representatives from the Small Business Administration and the state’s unemployment agency.  -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.

A banner declaring “Oso Strong” is stretched across the opening of the firehouse, with a bright red Snohomish County Fire District 25 truck parked right outside. The president has not yet come out to speak.

3:20 p.m. pool report: After touring the site of the devastation, Obama drove by motorcade to Oso, the former logging community that took the brunt of the damage.As he drove through the neighboring town of Arlington, Obama was greeted by dozens of people lining the streets and waving.He also passed by a pick-up truck in someone's front yard, covered in football memorabilia and signs bearing the name of Jovan Mangual, a teenager who died in the disaster.‎Department of Transportation officials have been helping to clear a full mile of State Road 530‎ that was covered by mud and debris. -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.

Note: Obama's speech is scheduled to be broadcast live on C-Span 2 at 3:50 p.m.

2:44 p.m. pool report: The Oso firehouse is packed, with the Snohomish County sheriff's helicopter rescue volunteers seated up front, including chief pilot Bill Quistorf, along with others. Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste and Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary are just outside. Down the road, yellow ribbons are hung on the banisters of the Oso Community Chapel, where the president is talking with families. The sun is back out. A small girl in an American flag dress waves from her front yard.-- Rikki King, Everett Herald.

2:43 p.m. pool report: At 2:10 pm President Obama arrived at the Oso community chapel to meet with families of the victims.Along the route to Oso many onlookers stood by the road, waving and snapping photos of the motorcade. A couple waved massive American flags. Signs along the road displayed different messages related to the disaster, including "God bless Oso families" and "thank you for your prayers and support."The pool is now walking to the firehouse.-- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.




Inside #OSOstrong fire house with first responders and the podium where @BarackObama will presumably speak #530slide

— Austin Jenkins N3 (@AustinJenkinsN3) April 22, 2014

Note: Obama's speech is scheduled to be carried live on CSPAN-2 at 3:50 p.m.

Enroute to Oso

2:10 pool report: Dandelions are in bloom in the lowlying fields along Highway 530. People are waving from driveways, turnouts and grocery store and church parking lots. One man sat on his tractor by the highway east of Arlington to watch. Cows munched grass. Some people wore Oso Strong sweatshirts, families in matching ones. Troopers line the roads.-- Rikki King, Everett Herald.

Marine 1 lands

1:38 p.m. pool report: After about 15 minutes of flying time, Marine One flew directly over the site of the mudslide wreckage. The impact of the one month-old disaster was still fresh, with a swath of mud and debris covering the mountainside. Ripped up trees littered the landscape, and the path of the Stillaguamish River was altered. A one-mile section of a state highway 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. Marine One touched down on a landing zone at approximately 1:31 pm PT. We are now headed to the Oso firehouse in Oso, Wash., one of the two small towns most directly affected by the disaster-- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.

AF1 lands, Obama choppers out

1:10 p.m. pool report: Air Force One touched down on Paine Field Airport at approximately 12:48 pm PT, and President Obama disembarked at 12:50 pm. He was greeted by a large group of WA state and federal politicians, per the White House, 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, the adjutant general, and Jon Lovick, Snohomish County executive. At 12:53 pm Obama boarded Marine One with the governor and Sens. Murray and Cantwell and took off for an aerial tour of the mudslide area. -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.

Here's a 12:50 p.m. report from Oso, by Everett Herald reporter Rikki King: Families and couples with babies and lawn chairs arrived at the Arlington airport, hoping for a glimpse of the president. They looked up as helicopters hummed overhead. Some waved at the sky. A toddler in a yellow jacket played in the grass,  her mother's watchful eye following her.

Here's the 12:38 p.m. report from Aboard Air Force 1:

From Washington Post correspondent Juliet Eilperin: Here are some of the highlights from White House press secretary Jay Carney’s gaggle aboard Air Force One, bound for Washington state. The topics included reports of possible nuclear test  activities by the North Korean government; whether the U.S. was considering further sanctions against Russia in connection with Ukraine; the president’s upcoming visit to Oso, Wash. and the Supreme Court’s decision on the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies. . . .

On Tuesday’s visit to Oso, where Obama will meet with both some of the families of the victims and first responders: “The president looks forward to spending time with the families and the first responders.”

Here are some of the highlights from White House press secretary Jay Carney’s gaggle aboard Air Force One, bound for Washington state. The topics included reports of possible nuclear test  activities by the North Korean government; whether the U.S. was considering further sanctions against Russia in connection with Ukraine; the president’s upcoming visit to Oso, Wash. and the Supreme Court’s decision on the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies. Please check all quotes against the transcript.

While the federal government has already dispatched aid and assistance to the area through both a major disaster declaration for the state of Washington and an emergency declaration on March 24, the purpose of the visit is “to view first-hand the aftermath of the terrible tragedy” and “meet directly with those who have lost loved ones” in the mudslide, and those who responded to the natural disaster.

On reports of military activities in North Korea: “We closely monitor actions such as that. North Korea has a history of taking provocative actions and we are always mindful of a possible action” that could be taken during this trip. “There is a kind of cyclical nature to the kind of action North Korea tends to take, and we will be watching it closely.”

On imposing sectoral sanctions on Russia: “The president has a great deal of flexibility and capacity to impose additional sanctions,” including and up to “sectoral sanctions… The importance of the [three] executive orders is, taken together, they allow for that flexibility.”

In terms of deescalating the conflict, “We would note the Ukrainian government is doing its part to deescalate the situation by offering amnesty” to the armed protesters and those who have occupied buildings.

On when the sanctions against Russia could be tightened, “I don’t have a specific deadline to provide to you… Russia understand that the United States and the EU and our G7 partners are serious about the need for all parties to the [recent] agreement to deescalate the situation in Ukraine.”

If Russia does not do more to encourage the separatists to put down their arms, “There will be further costs imposed on Russia.”

On the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision, “We’re still reviewing the ruling,” but the president thinks “diversity in the classroom is important for students, campuses and schools.” While the president does not support quotas, “considering race, along with other factors, can be appropriate in certain circumstances.” 

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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