By Chris Granville
Three years ago, our region witnessed one of the most destructive landslides ever recorded. The landslide near Oso, Washington occurred at 10:37 a.m. that day when an unstable portion of hill collapsed, sending mud and debris across the Stillaguamish River and destroying 49 homes in the neighborhood of Steelhead Haven. Tragically, 43 people—husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters from the tightknit community—were lost in one of the worst natural disasters the Pacific Northwest has ever seen.
Red Cross Director of Communications for the Northwest Region, Colin Downey, who was involved with the relief effort, summed up the emotion of that day. “That first night was the hardest. It was cold, raining and so many people were missing loved ones,” he said. “No one knew at that time the pain would carry on for so long. This is where the power of community took over. Everyone wanted to help, even those who experienced unimaginable losses. Local residents, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and, really, the focus of the country turned toward helping the families of the Stillaguamish Valley.”
As heartbreaking as it is when events like this occur, it’s exactly the kind of incident the Red Cross—and all first responders and disaster relief organizations—train and prepare for. The Red Cross worked alongside numerous groups, from churches to federal and military organizations, to assist with rescue and relief operations. In all, more than 600 personnel from roughly 40 separate associations worked on landslide recovery operations. Many more helped in the weeks and months of recovery that followed.
Although official rescue operations closed down by June 2014, the work of the Red Cross and others continued, helping survivors and the larger communities impacted. One example of long-term recovery efforts is the Darrington community resource center, which the Red Cross helped purchase with funds donated following the slide. Other long-term recovery projects funded by the Red Cross include a school counselor program (read here) and community services via the Arlington Community Resource Center (read here).
Today, our thoughts are with the families of the Stillaguamish Valley and all the heroes who rushed to help.
Related: “Answering the Call” – Long-term Recovery Manager Bob Dolhanyk