President Obama praises spirit of the Oso community

2014-04-23 Ashley Bach

When President Obama visited the site of the Oso landslide this week, he saw the American spirit at its best. About 900 people, many of them local volunteers, have helped in the search and recovery effort since the March 22 slide.

Obama gave his public remarks in the Oso firehouse, standing under a banner that read "Oso Strong," next to a red Snohomish County fire truck.

"We'll be here as long as it takes because while very few Americans had heard of Oso before the disaster struck, we've all be 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,” he said.

"This is family and these are folks that love this land and it’s easy to see why, because it’s gorgeous,” he said. “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.”

It wasn't just the firefighters and FEMA officials who actively took part in the recovery effort, Obama said.

“I know that it required some improvisation and some kinks getting worked out but it was important to the family members themselves and the community themselves to be hands-on and participate in this process, particularly in a community like this where folks are hardy, know how to do things and take great pride in being self-reliant,” he said.

Everyone in Oso, Darrington and the surrounding community has pitched in, the president said.

"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."

Several geologists have also weighed in recently on the causes of the landslide. The investigation is ongoing.

Lynn Highland, who heads the landslide program at the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., discussed the slide with National Geographic.

The catalyst for the Oso slide, Highland says, was an unprecedented amount of rain. When the hill finally gave way on March 22, the resulting slide was one of the largest to hit a developed community in recent history. Mud, soil, and rock debris left a tail 1,500 feet (457 meters) long, 4,400 feet (1,341 meters) wide, and 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters) deep, flattening two dozen homes along Steelhead Drive.

Civil Engineering Magazine, meanwhile, reported on a team of geologists and engineers from the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association that will be studying the causes of the Oso landslide. The team is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Co-leading the team is Joseph Wartman, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington.

(GEER) researchers will be looking at the roles of soil erosion at the toe of the landslide, heavy rainfall in the area, and the topography within the disaster zone. Precipitation in March was exceptional, with rain totals doubling the historical averages. Soil conditions also make the area prone to landslides. Once the models are completed and validated, the research team can then alter variables to examine the roles of various factors in the tragedy.

“We can start to ask questions such as, ‘If we didn’t put in water, what would have been the effect? If we didn’t have erosion at the toe, what would have been the effect?’ We can start to disaggregate and pull apart the different factors that may have contributed to this and look at their respective roles and do that in a very systematic way,” Wartman says.

If you would like to donate to those affected by the landslide, the Everett Herald has a contact list of local charities that are taking donations.