Oso remembers one-year anniversary of fatal landslide


Sunday, March 22 marks the one-year anniversary of the Oso, Wash., landslide that killed 43 people and had a severe impact on several Snohomish County communities, including Darrington, Arlington and Oso itself. The communities will honor the anniversary with a series of events and remembrances this weekend.

The focus is on healing, but according to local leaders, true recuperation will take a long time.

It’s impossible, locals say, to remove dozens of people — in an instant — from a small community and expect things ever to return to normal.

“Every family, every survivor, is on an individual journey,” said the Rev. Tim Sauer, pastor of both Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Arlington and St. John Vianney Mission in Darrington. “Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.”

One of the things that’s giving the local communities strength is that they came together so well in the wake of the disaster. It was locals, many of them loggers, who were the first on the scene of the landslide, rescuing survivors. And it was locals who banded together to support each other in the weeks and months after the disaster, even while rescue crews were still working on the recovery at the site of the slide.

This week, the communities of Darrington, Arlington and Oso and the Sauk-Suiattle tribe received the state Medal of Valor for their heroism in the rescue and community building after the slide. It was an honor well deserved.

The awards were accepted by Fire Chief Willy Harper on behalf of the town of Oso, (a logger, Quinn Nations) on behalf of the town of Darrington, high school student Brantly Stupey for the city of Arlington and volunteer firefighter Kevin Lenon for the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe.

Nations was among loggers who went into the mud to rescue victims in the initial hours after the March 22, 2014, slide near Oso, despite danger and warnings by law enforcement officers.

In accepting the award, he hinted at their defiant mood with a quote from longtime resident Steve Skaglund.

“Look what the American people can do if you just untie their hands,” Nations said, inciting a roar from Republicans, Democrats and his family, friends and neighbors in the gallery. “Chew on that one for a little bit.”

Brantly Stupey is just 14 but he accepted the medal for Arlington because he played an important role in keeping the community together.

A year ago (Stupey) attended Post Middle School, which is where the Red Cross set up an emergency shelter. Brantly was among students who worked tirelessly to round up donations and assist the operation. He also invited Gov. Jay Inslee to the school to speak, and the governor did visit.

“It is through this great tragedy, like all great tragedies, that challenge the human spirit,” Brantly said in his remarks.

“Such a thing brings out the best in all of us. For this reason, and through the strength, resiliency and love of our community, we have remained undaunted. The battle for healing is ongoing, but through continued unity, in time all will heal.”

As he spoke, Post Middle School Principal Voni Walker watched from the gallery as Brantly held the attention of lawmakers and guests.

“I think more than anything I felt pride in our youth,” she said. “They really represent Arlington and they are our future.”

Paul Brown, publisher of the Arlington Times, wrote this week that he was impressed by the community spirit in the weeks after the landslide.

Families opened their kitchens, provided food for first responders and then asked, “What else can I do to help?” Churches rallied with their own resources, including critical spiritual support and guidance. Businesses raised funds and sacrificed time and resources to give needed assistance.

I had the privilege of working Cabela’s hot dog stand with a number of other employees. Geez, we cooked so many hot dogs that I smelled hot dogs for three days. We had so many people donate sizable checks for the cause. One man handed over a check for $3,000 and would not even take a hot dog. But the most heart-warming donations came from small children who tearfully reached into their pockets or little purses to donate what change they had. I did not see one person entering or leaving Cabela’s that day that did not make a donation. Large or small, it didn’t matter. Their hearts were into doing what they could to help…

Communities are not defined by their homes and buildings. Communities are defined by the people who live there. It is times like the Oso landslide and the Marysville-Pilchuck disaster that bring out the true nature of who we are. So, while we continue to grieve from the loss, I invite us all to celebrate the wonderful nature of our friends, families and neighbors. We really are blessed to live, work and play here. And I want to thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this phenomenal little corner of the world.