Olympia diocese committed to multi-phase Oso mudslide recovery

By Dede Moore and Janet Loyd
Posted Sep 5, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Olympia] Five months after a major mudslide occurred near Oso, a rural area of Washington State approximately 60 miles northeast of Seattle, Episcopalians in the Diocese of Olympia are expressing their gratitude to all who’ve donated to the ongoing relief efforts while focusing on the future.

“Through our combined efforts, the Episcopal Church has dispersed approximately $35,000 to date,” including quiet donations from people and congregations, said the Rev. Janet Loyd, vicar of Church of the Transfiguration in Darrington, just east of Oso. “The generosity has helped many people up and down Highway 530, especially in the community of Darrington, move forward.”

It was Saturday morning, March 22, 2014, when the mudslide occurred. A portion of a hill collapsed sending mud and debris flowing across the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, damming the river, and burying more than one square mile of the landscape, including homes, cars, people and animals. The town of Darrington was cut off and isolated when the slide covered a portion of Highway 530. The slide killed 43 people.

In the days following the slide ,Diocese of Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel provided ongoing updates and a donation site was set up. On April 3, the mudslide was declared a major disaster by President Barack Obama, who visited the site on April 22.

A diocesan press release at the time noted that “the fabric of small towns is tight-knit community. Oso and Darrington are communities with tightly-woven relationships connecting people in integrated lives that make everyone ‘family’ in one way or another. The implication of this symbiosis is that when one thread of these communities’ fabric is pulled the whole cloth is affected.”

Recovery from this disaster will be a long-term project, and donations either directly to the Church of the Transfiguration, Darrington, or through the Diocese of Olympia, have been handled based on the approach that it is a marathon, not a race. There have been three phases to the recovery to date.

During Phase 1 – the first days after the slide – the biggest gift was prayer. Offers of immediate physical help were deeply appreciated, though the nature of the event made them mostly impractical. Donated books, cards, prayer shawls and squares, quilts, fleece blankets and comfort rocks were distributed to an appreciative community. The community felt very isolated as the slide blocked access to jobs, medical care, and basic services – with only a “back roads” mountain route cleared early of snow available. During this period monetary donations were largely used for gas cards, hotel accommodations, and community funeral dinners.

Phase 2 began with a collective sigh of emotional and practical relief when the first by-pass route opened. It also marked the beginning of the town facing the physical reality of the slide on a regular basis. Those living in Darrington must drive through the slide zone, and regularly revisit the places where homes, friends, and family members were lost. Funding during this phase was very diverse; many needs were identified through participation in the Combined Long Term Recovery Group, sometimes called the Unmet Needs Group. Each family or individual requesting help was assigned a caseworker who helped them develop a long-term plan for recovery, and then relayed needs to the group. Donations provided scholarships for affected children, participation in summer camp and other grief-related programs, storage containers and replacement vehicles, payment of household and medical bills, insurance and business licensing, small-business employment support, and payment of property taxes and mortgages while people struggled to get back on their feet. The mandate of the group to care for widows and orphans – and to love our neighbors – was fully addressed through the generosity shared with our community.

Phase 3 began in July when the remains of the final victim were found and returned to her family. For Darrington, this wasn’t closure, but did mark the beginning of a general readiness to look forward. Needs at this time tend to involve larger amounts as families are make decisions to move, renovate or relocate. The Unmet Needs Group has helped with down payments, rentals, mortgages, and construction costs. Because people are just beginning to realize their needs, money has been set aside for the future, and there will be an ongoing need for funding.

— Dede Moore is canon for operations for the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia and the Rev. Janet Loyd is vicar of Church of the Transfiguration in Darrington, Washington.