A month after deadly mudslide, a firsthand look for the president

Late Tuesday, President Obama flew to Oso, Wash., which was buried last month by a deadly landslide.

Marine One, the president's helicopter, flew over the debris, and he met with families of the victims.

A month after deadly landslide, Obama tours disaster site
"The families that I met with showed incredible strength and grace through unimaginable pain and difficulty," he said later, speaking at a firehouse.

"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. "We're going to be strong right alongside you."

At least 41 people were killed. Two are still missing.

A month after the landslide, the mud remains so deep and wet in places that searchers struggle to get through it.

Firefighter Ben Woodward is among the reinforcements brought in to search for bodies CBS News
Ben Woodward, a firefighter from eastern Washington, is one of the reinforcements brought in to take over the difficult search for bodies from local residents.

"Our motivation is finding closure for the families," Woodward said. "We're looking for their loved ones, that's our motivation for everybody out here, and we take that in daily."

The death toll is lower than first feared but the loss remains enormous in this small community.

Forty-one people were killed in the mudslide; two remain missing CBS News

Volunteer firefighters Jan and Jeff McLelland were among the first rescuers to reach those trapped in the landslide.

"I've cried a lot," Jeff McLelland said. "I've gone through various emotions. I've been, you know, um, from that first day when I walked out there and looked at it, I cried."

"When something makes you sad, you feel so sad," Jan McLelland said. "There's a bit more of an extreme to your life that you didn't feel before."

In Darrington, the flags have been flying at half staff for a month.

Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin CBS News
"Being able to overcome that tragedy is going to be a long and hard process," Mayor Dan Rankin said.

Asked if the area could ever recover, he said, "Will we ever be whole and well? No."

Part of making this region whole is re-opening the only highway through the valley. But a stretch of the road, more than a mile long, remains under the mud with no estimate for when it will be re-opened.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.