Photo credit to nationalgeographic.com
By Amanda Poston & Kelsi Novitsky
Oso, Washington unites to recover from mudslide
March 22, 2014 changed Oso, Washington, a small community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle, when a hillside brought down mud in tons over dozens of homes.
CBS News reports 30 people confirmed dead, ranging from 4-months to 71-years in age. The number of those missing, however, has dropped from 15 to 13, according to the latest information released by the Snohmish County sheriff's office. The Chicago Tribune reports that only one of the 30 confirmed dead has yet to be identified.
Now that the waters are receding, the search increases.
"We've already had a bit of dysentery out here," Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department told CBS News. "People are working in a septic tank of materials. We want them washed and decontaminated."
TIME reports that rescue teams are searching through more than two dozen flattened homes trying to find the missing. According to Fox News, teams with cadaver dogs are still on the search. The Chicago Tribune said there were roughly 450 people from 117 different organizations involved in search and rescue efforts.
This mudslide buried a highway in as much as 80 feet of mud and debris, and has covered hundreds of acres of land, according to The Oregonian. Amongst the debris, there are remnants of cars, houses, buildings, trees, and more. With treacherous rain, recovery efforts are remaining cautious. The elevated risk of further slides and flash floods has them on their toes, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Governor Jay Inslee of Washington told Fox News that the mudslide caused about $10 million in damages to homes, but estimates the total cost to be closer to $32.1 million. That includes the search and rescue efforts as well as removal of debris. He later added the cost may go higher dependent on how long the search continues.
NBC News reports that Inslee sent out a letter to the federal government which asked for a major disaster declaration. This declaration would provide aid which could cover funeral costs for up to 48 people. The state Department of Enterprise Services also has $250,000 readily available for a state-declared emergency, according to department spokesman Curt Hart.
"We're talking about a considerable amount of money total, but we're confident with the contacts we have and the donations so far," said Reverend Tim Sauer in an interview for NBC News.
Weller Funeral Home of Arlington, Washington prepared the bodies of those lost in the slide. The first service was held on Saturday, April 5.
"We've had to recruit other funeral directors to help with it all," Carrie Stucky, office manager of Weller Funeral Home, told NBC News. "We'll likely see more [funerals] over the next couple of weeks, but it all depends on how soon people are identified."
Schaefer-Shipman Funeral Home in Marysille is one of those assisting with other funeral arrangements.
The night of Friday, April 4, 2014, Haller Middle School's gym held an interdenominational prayer service for the victims, families, and rescuers. Huff Post Green reports that there was one large banner that said simply and powerfully, "Together."
"The number of victims is beyond understanding - many are in this room," Chaplain Ralph Fry said at the Friday service. "Even if you didn't have direct contact with someone involved, we all are victims."
Though 43 of people have been lost in the mudslide, everyone is a victim in this disaster.
"It's nice to see what a small town community can pull together and help each other out through these rough times," One victim's nephew told NBC News.
In Darrinton, Michael Duncan, pastor of the Mountain View Baptist Church, organized a community candlelight vigil, and 300 to 500 people were expected.
"This is an opportunity to begin the healing process," Duncan told The Chicago Tribune.
No one knows how long it will take to find those still missing. No one knows how long it will take to clear away the debris. No one knows how long it will take to rebuild that which was lost.
"Nobody, and I mean nobody, could be prepared for what we encountered," Arlington Fire Chief Bruce Stedman summed up what we do know when he told his Friday night audience. "From a first responder's perspective, I believe this incident will stay with each of us for the rest of our lives."