10 Years Later – Remembering the Tragic SR 530 Oso Landslide

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Editor’s Note: Our writer Tristan Halsen took on this assignment. A native and resident of Arlington, he remembers that day all too well. It was a moving and very emotional day. We thank him for his effort and courage to  cover this important event. It was a rainy day, which in many days was appropriate. Below is his story.

What’s going on? What’s happening? That’s what every family member asked on March 22, 2014 when the Oso landslide occurred. On that day, the deadliest incident of its kind in the nation occurred in the quiet and small town of Oso, Washington. The slide engulfed the community and destroyed 49 homes and structures. 43 people were tragically killed that day. The landside covered an area 1500 feet long and 4400 feet wide and left debris 30 to 70 feet deep, with the overall size of the landside totaling 270 million cubic feet. 10 years later, the effects of that tragic day are still felt and remembered by community members around the area.

However, the town of Oso and the two surrounding communities from Arlington and Darrington quickly sprang into action to help manage this incident that happened so close to home. More than 900 local, state, tribal, and federal responders worked alongside trained and untrained volunteers, families, and neighbors who came to help with the search, rescue, and recovery operations. Rescuers searched from March 22nd until July 22nd when the last victim was found. “We know we had to get all of the 43 out, and we did just that,” said Joel Johnson, Oso Chaplin and Chief of the Darrington Fire Department. The cause of what caused this tragic accident to occur is still being disputed to this day. Heavy rain weeks prior, as well as the composition of the slide may have played a factor into contributing its fall. Accumulation of rain water mixed with the hill’s composition of sand and very little clay may have led to its stability. It has also been claimed that previous logging attempts on the hill may have played a part in its eventual collapse. A lawsuit that blamed the state and a private timber company for logging above the slide a decade earlier settled for a total of $60 million just before a scheduled trial. “Unfortunately, we will face more of these events due to us being in a geologically active state,” said Governor Jay Inslee who was at the memorial today. “The geology of the state is a part of us, a part of our culture, and we have to learn to live and adapt to it. But when tragedy happens, that’s when we pull together and become something greater.”

Now, on the 10-year anniversary community members, loved ones of those who were lost, and selected government officials gathered together today at the SR 530 Slide Memorial Park to commemorate those who were tragically taken away. Located at the end of where the slide happened, a park has been constructed to remind passers by of the events that unfolded that day. The design for the memorial was developed through a collaborative process with families, survivors, and responders. The final side design is based on the idea that visitors to an educationally and emotionally intense place will move through six stages of understanding: arrival, decompression, reception, orientation, interpretation, and transformation. Sculptures to honor the community, the responders, and the victims were designed and installed by local artist Tsovinar Murafyan and the Classic Foundry.

“This truly is a beautiful site, and have done an amazing job of remembering those we lost that day,” said Julie Petersen, a family member who lost Christina Jefferds and Sanoah Huestis during the slide. “I just wanted to know what was going on, nobody would give me a straight answer on what was happening and it was only a little while later until I found out what really happened and after that everything felt surreal and I couldn’t believe it”. One of the key art pieces at the memorial is a 20 ft tower with 43 butterflies cut into it to symbolize those who were lost that day. “It was the first responders, volunteers, and community members that really helped us through this and couldn’t be thanked enough for time and sacrifice that they put in to finding everyone,” said one community member. Arlington, Darrington, and Oso came together that day and combined their small-town identities to help fix what had happened. “Arlington is growing, but we are still that small-town that finds a way to incorporate everyone. We all know each other in a sense and are connected even more by this,” said Petersen. “It was the loggers, locals, Police Departments, and Fire Departments who did all of this work, it didn’t take one specific group.”

10 years later, the slide is still being remembered as members of these communities will never forget what happened and will forever be etched into their history. Years will pass but these memories will not soon be forgotten, each and every single person involved in the Oso Landslide and Washington State as a whole will continue to be #OsoStrong.

All pictures were taken by Tristan Halsen.