It has been one week since the devastating mudslide in Oso, Washington. Prior to this event, many people had never heard of Oso. It’s an area more than a town, a concentration of people on Highway 530 between Arlington and Darrington. Even if you live in Western Washington, you’re more likely to have taken State Route 20 through this part of the Evergreen State than 530.
We know where Oso is now, and t-shirts and signs all over this region are shouting, “Oso Strong!” as a fierce community effort to assist survivors continues. What is happening in this community right now is amazing– citizens leapt into action immediately without waiting for anyone else to rescue them.
As a veteran public employee, I’ve long dreaded the arrival of a serious natural disaster in the Seattle area because I’m concerned about the number of people who will demand that the government help them first rather than doing what they can to help themselves. I’ve seen this mentality at work during smaller events.
In a major event public agencies need to be able to help those who most need it, especially when there are lives to save. What’s happened in Snohomish County this week is a brilliant example of people helping people regardless of what public agencies are doing. Entities of all kinds are working side by side to maximize the positive impact on area residents and allow the professionals to do what they need to do.
Today my faithful copilot hound and I were able to visit the area and talk with those involved in the relief efforts. While my camera is an older, temperamental point-and-shoot that doesn’t like rainy days, through these snapshots I hope to give you a feel of what the 530 corridor is like and how caring and resilient these people are. I also hope it helps people understand just how much their donations and efforts are needed and appreciated.
Driving up to Arlington, I noted just one “Help Oso” sign on the way amidst the espresso shacks and medical marijuana outlet placards. That doesn’t speak to a lack of effort, it’s just that the drive to help survivors became much more visible once we escaped the tangle of Priuses and primly-perched hipster glasses down south. The number of signs on local businesses and residences asking for prayer for the victims, and the number of American flags flying, spoke to how there’s nothing weird here about calling on our Creator or showing pride in our country.
Action Sports in Arlington, about 15 miles southwest of the slide area, is selling gear in keeping with the Oso Strong theme.Click on any of the images to make them larger.
A local Mexican restaurant’s sign speaks for itself.
Looking northeast from Highway 530 on the way to Oso. Today’s cold, wet weather continued to complicate things for the rescue and recovery crews.
The Oso Fire Department was a hotbed of activity. When I stopped briefly to ask a question and snapped this photo, a man assisting with traffic control bellowed, “I’m not here to have my picture taken!!” I could interpret this as some folks being tired of the media presence, but my gut reaction was that he’s a humble man just trying to do his part. Volunteers and professional crews aren’t there for the publicity. They’re there to get things done. And they’ve been doing their utmost for eight grueling days now.
Once we reached Oso Chapel, a palpable sense of the tragedy ahead set in. You knew that just three miles up the road, the side of a mountain had fallen off and imprisoned scores of people. Scores more were battling their way through the monotone gray to recover them and restore order.
A volunteer helps unload after yet another person drove up with donations. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Oso Community Chapel is the only church on a 29-mile stretch of road. Many other churches of all denominations are helping, but this is the church that is actually in the area. They are a logical– and very willing– center for relief.
The building we’ve all seen in the news with the Oso Chapel reader boards on it is not the church itself. Talking to the volunteers, who are very warm and welcoming people, they told me that the building below is actually the old grange. I was intrigued by the thought that this aging structure might have once been filled with laughter from dances and potlucks. It seems so appropriate that this same site is a base of support now.
Looking up Highway 530 from Oso Chapel (to the east). This is as far east as we went. There was no reason to try and get closer to the scene.
Just down the road to the west is a store and restaurant. This establishment and the church are the most recognizable signs that you’re in a place called Oso.
Past the store is a bridge over the Stillaguamish River. The fire department is on the other side of that (to the west). The river was swollen and furious due to this week’s rain.
A look to the other side of the bridge facing north. Someone should repaint that graffiti on the bridge that says, “Partytown USA” and replace it with “Hardytown USA.” These people are survivors.
Glancing south at some of the foothills. You could see obvious areas that have been logged on several hills.
Another drive-by shot of the Oso Fire Department. The sign reads, “Thank You For Your Prayers and Support.”
The lines of cars parked along the highway near the fire department. Volunteers and emergency personnel have come from all over.
Picturesque Fruitful Farm has been instrumental in the relief efforts. They are an organic farm and nursery with a colorful website.
The sign at Fruitful Farm says, “Please visit Osomudsliderelief.org.”
This land is beautiful. On the drive in I noticed how locals had tied yellow ribbons to their trees and fence posts in a show of support. These brilliant xanthic blooms in the marshy areas seemed to add to the prayers and hope.
My camera tried to do the fuzzy rebellion thing again in this light, but you can still appreciate the natural beauty along this road.
Citizens along 530, from Arlington to Oso to Darrington, have a lot of community pride and show it in proclamations like these.
This house near Arlington Heights Road displayed its community spirit, remembrance, and hope proudly.
On the way back I took a couple of shots of this sign. I didn’t realize until I downloaded these photos what another sign, on the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church, was very appropriately blinking at passersby.
At the Arlington Food Pavilion, several groups were raising money for slide victims. Two outstanding young people from the Immaculate Conception Parish were collecting donations for funeral expenses. They too expressed how fantastic it is that area residents jumped in automatically without waiting for official assistance or direction.
Safety Shirtz was in the Food Pavilion parking lot selling t-shirts and sweatshirts to aid victims. One woman kindly allowed me to take a picture of hers while a friend’s dog was practically leaping out of the car window to lavish her with affection. Dogs just know when we need a lift.
Inside the Food Pavilion, they are still collecting donations.
Elsewhere in downtown Arlington, the community is making sure that first responders know they are deeply and sincerely appreciated.
This beauteous bovine mural graces the side of an Arlington business. Farming is still important in this region. I have to wonder what my wise and silly canine companion was thinking when we pulled up to three giant cows staring him down.
Arlington Hardware has been featured on the news and is another site where you can donate food and goods.
This espresso stand is also collecting donations. When we consider what we spend on coffee and our froofy drinks around here, donating a few dollars to an effort like this is easy.
At the Arlington Safeway, “just citizens” were collecting donations and loading them up for transport. They were not with any particular organization, they were just people who wanted to help. This is where I first saw the shirts being sold at Action Sports.
Something a volunteer at the Oso Chapel said stood out more than other conversations of the day. He said that people– as they should– are praying for miracles, but some don’t realize the miracles that have already happened. One example he gave is that someone who lived in the slide area was going to be hosting a large youth event but didn’t. Offhand I don’t remember why they didn’t, but had the event occurred as originally planned, many more people would have been in the path of that mudslide. We recalled other stories we’ve heard like this over the past week.
In closing, it wasn’t an overwhelming sense of loss or a broken spirit I felt along Highway 530. It was a feeling of hope and resurrection. It reminded me of when someone walks across a bed of daffodils and tulips as they bloom this time of year. The leaves might be crushed and the bed might look ruined. But below that soil are mighty capsules of regeneration that will ensure leaves and fresh blooms burst out of the earth again, even if they take a few seasons to do so. These communities have good roots and despite dealing with this sudden and massive loss, they are already rising again.
All the flowers of all the tomorrows
are in the seeds of today.
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