Preparations under way for president’s visit

Mark Mulligan / The HeraldMembers of the Washington State National Guard sort through debris south of the berm helping drain water from the mudslide site Friday morning.

Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Members of the Washington State National Guard sort through debris south of the berm helping drain water from the mudslide site Friday morning.


By Rikki King and Eric Stevick, The Herald

EVERETT — President Barack Obama will visit the site of the Oso mudslide today, marking one month since the disaster that took at least 41 lives and destroyed a state highway.

The president will meet with victims’ families, survivors and first responders.

Much of those conversations will be private, though some may be able to catch a glimpse of Air Force One landing at Paine Field in Everett about 12:30 p.m.

Few other details were made public Monday about the president’s itinerary.

The confirmed death toll from the slide rose to 41 Monday, with two people still listed as missing. This weekend, Harborview Medical Center in Seattle released the last of its patients injured in the slide.

A local incident-management team is expected to take over command at the site again this week, another sign that the massive operation is shifting gears.

Highway 530 remains blocked. A flood warning is in place for the area east of the slide along the North Fork Stillaguamish River until Thursday afternoon.

The Secret Service began arriving in Arlington, Darrington and Oso weeks ago after Obama’s visit was announced. Military aircraft could be seen flying in Marysville and Arlington over the weekend as the president’s visit approached.

The day will mark Obama’s second visit to Snohomish County while serving as president. He last was here on Feb. 17, 2012, when he toured The Boeing Co. plant in Everett and spoke to factory workers.

That year was the first time in nearly two decades that a serving president visited the county.

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said he is looking forward to speaking with Obama.

“To meet the president is just going to be beyond words for me,” Lovick said Monday.

Lovick was raised in Robeline, La., where the population now is just 179 people, he said.

“I never thought I would meet a city councilman let alone the president,” Lovick said.

Many local police officers and firefighters also are expected to play a role in today’s visit. They were unable to provide details, though, deferring questions to the White House.

The presidential visit two years ago cost local police and fire departments and county government more than $30,000. The expenditures included overtime staffing and fuel.

After visiting Snohomish County, Obama is scheduled to go to Asia, with stops in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia, according to the Associated Press.

Lives continue to be disrupted by the slide.

On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that assistance had been approved for people in the Arlington, Darrington and Oso areas whose commutes to work, school and medical appointments are detoured around the slide, through Skagit County. That will happen through individual FEMA assistance applications.

Businesses that need help should contact the Small Business Administration at or 800-659-2955.

The Arlington School District has been sending a school bus to pick up students in Darrington, most of whom have opted to stay in the district for the rest of the school year.

Many students who live east of the slide are staying with family and friends in Arlington on school nights. At least two families have transferred students between the Arlington and Darrington school districts to avoid the lengthy detour, school officials said.

Also on Monday, two high-ranking prosecutors urged people to be aware of potential fraud related to the mudslide. Western Washington’s U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe warned people thinking about scamming mudslide victims or the government that they will face the full brunt of the law if they are caught.

“We will not be here to throw the book at you,” Roe said. “We will be here to throw the whole library.”

So far, there have been anecdotal reports of possible fraud, but no concrete evidence, Durkan said.

The prosecutors said fraud has been a common problem after other national disasters and they want to get in front of it in Oso.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud has documented many cases that resulted in prosecutions. In one instance, a woman was sentenced to three years in prison after falsely claiming she had a home in Mississippi that was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. She also received temporary shelter from a charity where she stole the identities of hurricane victims and charged thousands of dollars on credit cards she took out in their names. “We will protect the victims and we will prosecute those that try to turn this tragedy into criminal profit,” Durkan said.

Among other tips, the prosecutors said people making donations should never be feel pressured to contribute and should never give personal or financial information to anyone who solicits money. They also referred anyone suspicious of fraud in relief efforts to contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or by email at

Meanwhile, the Washington State Patrol continues to remind people that there is no public access to view the mudslide. The roadblocks are several miles away.

The Patrol continues to turn away as many as two dozen cars a day, trooper Keith Leary said.

“The area is not a tourist attraction, and the high level of respect for those who are still missing and their families is our priority,” Leary said.




Death Toll In Mudslide Rises To 39

A road sign advising the closure of Highway 530 stands near a small display of flowers and a cross Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Darrington, Wash.Elaine Thomopson AP Photo

A road sign advising the closure of Highway 530 stands near a small display of flowers and a cross Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Darrington, Wash.
Elaine Thomopson AP Photo

By The Associated Press

The death toll from the mudslide that hit the Washington town of Oso has risen to 39.

The Snohomish County medical examiner’s office announced two more victims Wednesday and said it’s trying to identify three of the bodies.

The sheriff’s office still lists seven people as missing from the March 22 landslide that buried dozens of homes in the community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

Recovery workers with dogs are probing the debris, and the state Transportation Department is making plans to clear a mile-long stretch of Highway 530 that is covered with mud and trees up to 25 feet deep.

Meetings will discuss options for rebuilding 1-mile stretch of 530

Genna Martin / The HeraldPatricia Flajole (right) and son Pat look out over a flooded Highway 530 east of the Oso mudslide area on March 23, the day after the slide. The Flajole family owns a cabin just east of the slide area. The water, which had backed up because of river blockage, has mostly receded since then.

Genna Martin / The Herald
Patricia Flajole (right) and son Pat look out over a flooded Highway 530 east of the Oso mudslide area on March 23, the day after the slide. The Flajole family owns a cabin just east of the slide area. The water, which had backed up because of river blockage, has mostly receded since then.


By Bill Sheets, Chris Winters, Jerry Cornfield and Rikki King, The Herald

Nearly three weeks after the devastating landslide in Oso, discussion of the fate of Highway 530 is beginning in earnest.

A series of community meetings has been scheduled for next week to gather input and discuss options for the daunting task of rebuilding the 1-mile stretch of highway that was smothered by the March 22 mudslide.

The section has been closed to the public since then, severing Darrington’s direct lifeline to Arlington and the I-5 corridor.

State and Snohomish County officials have been discussing with families of victims the delicate matter of digging out the highway while more people and belongings likely are still buried in the mud.

To date, 36 victims of the mudslide have been confirmed dead, with county officials releasing the names of three more victims Thursday.

Eight people are still missing.

“It’s kind of sacred ground for them and we want to make sure we’re going in there in the most respectful way possible,” said Travis Phelps, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

In the meantime, officials are also beginning to look at the longer-term economic effect of the slide. Residents are deeply concerned about the effects on Darrington’s economy and culture if the town remains cut off for months.

“Of course we need that road open. That’s our lifeline to the outside world,” said Kevin Ashe, a part-owner of the Darrington IGA.

The only other major route into town is on Highway 20 through Skagit County, which turns a 45-minute drive to Everett into a two-hour detour.

Crews so far have removed most of the mud from a few hundred feet of Highway 530 on the western edge of the slide area.

“We’ve made some progress but not a heck of a lot,” Phelps said.

Because much of the highway is still buried, it’s too early to tell whether the road will be salvageable, he said.

“I’m sure some of it’s been damaged and some of it’s not,” Phelps said.

On the east side, part of the highway is still under water where the North Fork Stillaguamish River pooled up behind the slide. Even if the road can be repaired, the river’s ultimate course through the altered landscape will play a large part in determining if the road can remain in its current location, Phelps said.

If the road has to be rebuilt, topography of the surrounding area will be a factor, he said. Some steep hills are located south of the current highway right-of-way.

Engineers have begun studying possible routes, he said. When these become more developed, they’ll be shared with the public at later meetings.

“We’ve started looking at the terrain,” Phelps said.

Because of all these factors, it’s impossible to estimate when the highway could reopen or how much it might cost, he said.

The economic damage isn’t limited to just the highway. Damage to houses and other properties that were destroyed in the slide area is estimated at $6.77 million, according to a county assessor’s report released Thursday. About $919,000 of that was from the flooding.

More than 34 houses were destroyed and at least 10 manufactured homes, in addition to vacant lots, camping sites and other kinds of buildings, according to the report.

Because of the extent of the slide and the flooding, some areas have not been assessed yet, especially east of the slide near where a berm is being built.

While the federal government likely will reimburse the costs of rebuilding Highway 530, the longer-term recovery period is likely to come out of local pockets.

The economic hit to Darrington could be serious due to the reduced access and increased costs of getting to the town.

One worry, for example, is at what point people who commute into Darrington for jobs, or those who commute from Darrington to Arlington or the rest of the county, will decide the hassle of the commute isn’t worth the job.

In looking toward the longer term, the Puget Sound Regional Council has recommended that $5 million in federal funding be used to support economic recovery in Darrington.

The PSRC, an intergovernmental body that distributes about $240 million in federal transportation funding annually, will perform an unusual workaround to free up money that can contribute to Darrington’s recovery.

The PSRC’s federal money is earmarked for specific transportation projects, but some of those projects won’t come to fruition this year, leaving the PSRC money without a designated project. Snohomish County identified an ongoing project — the North Road project between Lynnwood and Mill Creek — that was funded with $9.8 million in local funds on top of $3.2 million in federal money.

By directing $5 million more in federal money to the North Road project, the PSRC will free up the same amount in county money from that project, which can in turn be redirected to projects in the Darrington area.

“County money is much more flexible than these federal dollars,” PSRC spokesman Rick Olson said.

The county money will then be targeted at projects that will have an economic benefit for Darrington.

Darrington’s plan to add curbs, gutters, sidewalks and a storm drainage system to Fir Street has been identified as one immediate need. Other projects that might be considered are upgrading the Whitehorse Trail or more street improvements in the town itself.

These projects would not be eligible for disaster funds, but by directing more county money to them, they would have a positive economic impact and take a little of the burden off Darrington. An upgraded Whitehorse Trail, for example, could be a tourist draw for the town, Olson said.

The issue moves to the PSRC’s executive committee next week, where it stands a good chance of passing.

“I think the PSRC has a good history of counties supporting each other, especially in times of need like this,” said Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers, who sits on the committee.

These smaller measures may help soften the impact of the closure of Highway 530, but it will by no means eliminate it.

After the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge on I-5 last May, a temporary span was in place less than a month later.

Highway 530 is an altogether different animal, Phelps said. Some kind of temporary road may be considered, but it is still too soon to make that decision.

“Here we have a much bigger emergency response underway,” he said.

There’s no one federal agency to turn to for help. Money could potentially come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Highway Administration and others, Phelps said.

“It’s going to be kind of an ongoing discussion,” Phelps said.

Snohomish County and the state Department of Transportation have scheduled three meetings to discuss the situation regarding Highway 530, which was blocked by the March 22 landslide.

*7-9 p.m. Monday, April 14, at the Darrington Community Center, 570 Sauk Ave.;

*7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, at Oso Community Chapel, 22318 Highway 530;

*6-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, in the Main Hall at the Stillaguamish Senior Center, 18308 Smokey Point Blvd., Arlington.


Obama confirms visit to Oso slide on April 22


Source: Marysville Globe

OSO — President Barack Obama has confirmed reports from Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell that he will visit the scene of the Oso mudslide on April 22.

On April 8, the White House issued the following statement:

“On Tuesday, April 22, President Obama will travel to Oso, Washington, to view the devastation from the recent mudslide and meet with the families affected by this disaster, as well as first responders and recovery workers. Further details about the President’s travel to Washington will be available in the coming days.”

Earlier that day, Inslee had issued a statement of his own, reporting that the President had informed him that morning of his planned visit.

“This will give the President the opportunity to see firsthand the devastation wrought by the slide, as well as the incredible community spirit flourishing in Oso, Arlington and Darrington,” Inslee said. “From the earliest days following the slide, the President has closely monitored events in the area, and shown his concerns for the victims and their families. He and his team have been important partners in the response effort, and I believe this visit will strengthen those ties, as we face the tough work ahead.”

DelBene had also been informed by Obama that same day of his upcoming visit.

“Additionally, the President informed me that he will move quickly to sign into law legislation that was recently passed by Congress, to save the historic Green Mountain Lookout near Darrington,” DelBene said, in a statement issued on April 8.

Murray and Cantwell issued a joint statement that day, expressing their appreciation to Obama for his decision to visit the area on April 22.

“We are confident that President Obama will see what we have seen: The tremendous resolve and determination of the people of Oso, Darrington and Arlington in the face of tragedy,” Murray and Cantwell said. “The President’s visit is another important step in demonstrating the federal government’s ongoing commitment to supporting the families, first responders, volunteers and businesses, as they recover from this disaster. We appreciate the decision to make major disaster resources available, and by the IRS to grant tax relief, and we’ll continue to work for the federal government to provide every resource possible for these communities.”

Tribal jam session raises over $3400 for Oso mudslide victims


Natosha Gobin, left, Tribal jam session creator and organizer, welcomes attendees to the event which raised $3,486 to aid victims and rescue crews of the Oso mudslide. Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Natosha Gobin, left, Tribal jam session creator and organizer, welcomes attendees to the event which raised $3,486 to aid victims and rescue crews of the Oso mudslide.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

by Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

TULALIP, WA – “Two weeks ago, I think most of us, like 9/11, will remember exactly the moment where we were when we found out there was a slide in Oso,” said Travis Hots, Fire Chief for the Snohomish County Fire District 21, to attendees at the Tulalip Jam Session Oso Fundraiser on Friday, April 4, that raised over $3,400 for the victims and rescue crews of the Oso Mudslide.

“At first we just thought it was just another slide like the one that occurred in Mukilteo on Camano Island. We didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the disaster at first,” Hots went onto say.

Travis Hots, Snohomish County Fire District 21 Fire Chief is wrapped in a Pendleton blanket ,signifying warm and protection, during the Tulalip Oso Jam Session Fundraiser held on April 4, 2014. Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Travis Hots, Snohomish County Fire District 21 Fire Chief is wrapped in a Pendleton blanket ,signifying warm and protection, during the Tulalip Oso Jam Session Fundraiser held on April 4, 2014.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

On March 22, 2014, a portion of an unstable hill collapsed, sending mud and debris across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, destroying the Steelhead Haven neighborhood and covering an area of 1 square mile including a section of Highway 530, cutting off the town of Darrington. As a result of the mudslide, 33 people were confirmed dead with 12 missing or unaccounted for, as of April 7. The mudslide is considered the deadliest single landslide event in U.S. history.

Hundreds of medical aid, search-and-rescue responders and volunteers sprang into action to help with rescue efforts. This included responders from the Tulalip community, such as a Tulalip tribal member spouse with the Snohomish County Swift Water Rescue, and responders from Tulalip Bay Fire Station.

To help ease the burden of rescue relief expenses, the Tulalip community organized the jam session to raise money.

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Tribal jam sessions are gatherings born out of the Coast Salish Canoe Journeys, where coastal tribes come together to share songs with one another. A charity jam session, like the one held to raise money for the victims and rescue workers of the Oso mudslide, incorporate traditional potlatching values, which include giving to those in need, praying together and sharing as a community.

The event, attended by nearly 200 people, includeding surrounding Coast Salish tribes, raised $3,486 to be donated to four organizations. The Snohomish County Swift Water Rescue will receive $870. Another $870 will be donated to Snohomish County Fire District 22, one of the stations that Fire Chief Travis Hots is stationed at to lead rescue efforts.  Cascade Valley Hospital Victims Fund will receive $870 and $870 will be donated to animal rescue and shelters.

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

“The Oso mudslide is a tragedy that is not only close to our home, but we had tribal members grow up in the area, some still have homes close to the site of the mudslide,” said Natosha Gobin, event creator and organizer. Since it is a custom of our people to stand up for our warriors and protect them for their work, we invited Travis to attend our fundraiser, so we could wrap him with a Pendleton for protection and thank him for his work.”

The event, comprised of 10 core organizers and 25 volunteers, raised donations through concession stands selling food, water, and raffle tickets. Local Tulalip artists Jonny Dill and Sam Davis donated original art, along Essential Earth Organic Salon and Tulalip Resort Casino, who donated product packages for the raffle.

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

“We decided to go with a suggested donation at the door, concession stand, bake sale and raffle. Since this event was a community effort, we asked for donations of paper goods for the food and drinks. Those who stepped up to cook, donated items to cook spaghetti, hamburger soup, Frybread and a variety of desserts. There was a sense of unity, love and healing in the building that night. I felt truly blessed to have so many great team members who helped make an idea turn into a successful event for our neighbors in the Oso area,” said Gobin.

“It was no surprise to see that the Tulalip Tribes were the first entities to make a large contribution and for that I am very grateful,” said Hots before the jam session. “I want to express that gratitude on behalf of the fire fighters because those dollars are going to good use, thank you. I would also like to thank each of you for inviting myself, my wife and kids, and for accepting us into your community tonight, it is truly an honor and I say thank you.”


Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402;



Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News






Goldmark Accuses Anti-Logging Interests Of Exploiting Oso Slide

File photo of the massive landslide that hit Snohomish County in March.Office of the Governor Flickr

File photo of the massive landslide that hit Snohomish County in March.
Office of the Governor Flickr


By Austin Jenkins, NW News Network

Washington Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is speaking publicly for the first time since the Oso landslide in Snohomish County.

The two-term Democrat suggests anti-logging interests want to use the disaster to advance their cause.

Goldmark is indignant in the wake of news reports that have focused on past logging on the plateau above the Oso landslide.

“Frankly, the results of a small timber harvest that occurred in 2005 — and the small timber harvest was about 7 acres — and whether or not that had any role in creating the slide is entirely speculative at this time,” said Goldmark on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

He went on to say his agency’s prime focus right now is to help with the recovery effort and monitor the slide zone for further movement.

He says there will be studies later to determine the cause of the deadly collapse of the hillside. In the meantime, Goldmark calls any speculation that logging played a contributing role “disappointing.”

“There are certain critics, and I’ll leave it at that, who are opposed to timber harvest and so some of them seize on the opportunity to advance that view in the context of the emotional response around a terrible tragic event,” said Goldmark.

One high profile environmentalist denies this charge.

“Respectfully, it’s extremely disappointing that our elected lands commissioner would accuse some of us of this,” says Peter Goldman, head of the Washington Forest Law Center. He’s also been a Goldmark campaign contributor.

“I turn the question back to the Commissioner,” adds Goldman. “Why would we not use the principle of precaution and stay out of these areas. We’re talking about lives here and not just fish.”

Commissioner Goldmark says there are no plans for a moratorium on logging in areas similar to where the Oso slide happened.

Goldmark was first elected in 2008 with the strong backing of environmentalists following another high profile landslide. The so-called Stillman Creek slide in southwest Washington put a spotlight on the controversial practice of steep-slope logging and helped catapult Goldmark to office.

Tulalip community to host inter-tribal jam session tonight for victims of Oso mudslide

By Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

A painting of the Tulalip Marina by Tulalip tribal artist Sam Davis will be one of the raffle items during the Tulalip Inter-tribal jam session to raise money for victims of the Oso mudslide. Photo courtesy, Natosha Gobin

A painting of the Tulalip Marina by Tulalip tribal artist Sam Davis will be one of the raffle items during the Tulalip Inter-tribal jam session to raise money for victims of the Oso mudslide.
Photo courtesy, Natosha Gobin

TULALIP – Tulalip community will be hosting an inter-tribal jam session tonight at 6:00 p.m. Greg Williams Court at the Don Hatch Youth Center located at 6700 Totem Beach Road on the Tulalip Reservation to raise money for Oso families as they recover from their losses.

A $5 donation will be accepted at the door. A concession stand serving refreshments, frybread, spaghetti, hamburger soup, and baked goods will be available for sale.  A raffle featuring items donated by local tribal artists will be held during the event.

“This event is 100 percent community efforts,” said event organizer Natosha Gobin, who says volunteers are still welcome to

A painting by Tulalip tribal artist Jonny Dill will also be one of the raffle items.Photo courtesy, Natosha Gobin

A painting by Tulalip tribal artist Jonny Dill will also be one of the raffle items.
Photo courtesy, Natosha Gobin

sign up. “All proceeds will go to the victims and rescue crews affected by the mudslide. It warms my heart and spirit to have so many give their time and assistance to the planning and execution of this event. I raise my hands to the crew that is helping make this event a success.”

The session will begin with a prayer and Amazing Grace sung by Tulalip artist Cerissa Gobin followed by traditional songs, prayers, and drumming.

For more information, or to volunteer at the event, please contact Natosha Gobin at 425-319-4416.


Oso Landslide Benefit Featuring Country Music Star Chance McKinney



Neighbors Helping Neighbors Concert at Tulalip Resort Casino


WHO:  Tulalip Resort Casino, country music star Chance McKinney, with Ron Stubbs as the opening act


  • A live concert to raise Oso Landslide Relief funds, with a goal of a sell-out event
  • $20 entry charge at the door, with 100% of the admission proceeds benefiting the Oso community
  • Each attendee will receive a drawing ticket to win an autographed guitar by Chance McKinney
  • The total donation will become part of an account set up by Union Bank of Edmonds and Cascade Valley Hospital.  Proceeds will be used to assist the victims and their families. Additional donations may be made at the event

Friday, April 4th beginning at 6:00 pm

WHERE:  Canoes Cabaret
Tulalip Resort Casino
10200 Quil Ceda Boulevard
Tulalip, Washington  98271

WHY:    A large landslide destroying a sizable part of the Oso community, covering nearly a square mile with mud and debris, as well as claiming at least 27 lives“It’s not often we’re called upon to help neighbors in such dire need, but when the opportunity arises, nobody can say the Pacific Northwest isn’t up for the challenge!” says Chance McKinney.

Tulalip COO and President Ken Kettler concurs, “Our goal is to deliver funds directly back to the Oso community, where the need is epic and every dollar helps chip away at the sheer magnitude.”

Living In The Shadow Of Landslide Risk

"Maybe that hillside is a danger to me," says Ben Van Dusen, looking towards the steep foothills of Mt. Index less than a 1/4 mile from his home. "I didn’t think it was but maybe it is.” | credit: Ashley Ahearn

“Maybe that hillside is a danger to me,” says Ben Van Dusen, looking towards the steep foothills of Mt. Index less than a 1/4 mile from his home. “I didn’t think it was but maybe it is.” | credit: Ashley Ahearn


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

MT. INDEX RIVER SITES, Wash. — The landslide in Oso, Wash. served as a devastating reminder of one fact of life in the Northwest: landslides happen.

In some places, it’s a risk people have learned to live with — places like the Mt. Index River Sites, a loose cluster of homes along the Skykomish River northeast of Seattle in the Cascade Mountains.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 3.35.31 PM
Map image showing a landslide deposit west of Index.
Credit: Tony Schick


Since December, landslides have destroyed a dozen homes and wiped out the only access road to this community. No one was hurt.

Loren Brayton pushes his camouflage hat back on his head and puts down his chainsaw for a minute to talk. He’s cutting away tree trunks that are blocking the road to his cabin site.

“All that slid last night. I got stuck on the other side,” he said.

Brayton’s family has owned a sliver of rocky property next to Sunset Falls since the early 1970s. He’s building a cabin there that he hopes to retire in someday.

“I’ve spoken with three geologists. I also drilled into the granite and rebarred in. I’m anchored. These guys built on clay,” he says, gesturing at the destroyed homes littering the hillside above where he’s standing, “So they moved. I won’t.”

Surveying the devastation behind Brayton — the hillside a wall of muck and debris, tin roofs folded in half, bits of houses jutting out amidst stumps and mud-slathered couch cushions — Brayton’s sentiments about the viability of his dwelling seem to faintly echo the sentiments of the three little pigs, but Brayton isn’t worried.

Loren Brayton. Credit: Ashley Ahearn


“When it’s time to go you’ll go. When you’re dead you’re buried under dirt anyway.”

For Brayton, the natural beauty of this place — replete with salmon, bald eagles, osprey and quiet — is worth the risk. But he does acknowledge some parallels with the devastation in Oso, about an hour and a half away. There, the death toll from the March 22 landslide is approaching 30 people.

“For all the people here, there was personal property lost and there was real estate lost. We had no deaths. So I compare this to Oso, but I feel for them more than I do for us. We’ll recover,” Brayton says.

The Skykomish River pounds down over Sunset Falls, a not-too-subtle reminder of how much power water has over this landscape, and how devastating this river can be. Floods occur fairly regularly here, damaging property and forcing people to evacuate. Landslides have taken out other sections of this dirt road in the past.

For the 230 or so people who live on the other side of this slide, ATV is the only way to get in and out. Many of them are without power or water and have been, off and on, for weeks.

But the access road is private so there’s no government money available to fix it. Since December the community has spent close to $60,000 clearing landslide debris off this road again and again.

“I watched our contractor for two months dig one lane through. Faster than he could put it in his dump truck and haul it away, more would come down,” says Lynne Kelly, who has lived here for 30 years and now serves on the community board. “It just keeps coming down and I think people have finally figured out that at some point it has to stop. There is no money.”

Lynne Kelly. Credit: Ashley Ahearn


The community has fought over what to do about the road — whether to keep clearing and repairing it or give up altogether. They’ve gone to court over how the costs of road maintenance should be divvied up among residents. There’s talk of building a bridge over the Skykomish so that people who are blocked in on the far side of the slide can have another means of accessing Highway 2.

But that would cost almost half a million dollars, and there’s not enough money in this community to pay for it. Kelly’s not optimistic about the chances of getting a loan. “For Sale” signs dot this dirt road.

“People are just wrapping their heads around evacuating and changing their lifestyle and as much as I hate to say it, the Oso slide has been a big wake up call,” she says.

Moving elsewhere isn’t an option for everyone. Ben Van Dusen sits in a lawn chair looking out over a collection of old cars slowly rusting in the rain. When the clouds part briefly, out pops craggy white Mount Index towering over his property. Van Dusen has a million-dollar view, but when he bought this little house 19 years ago he paid less than $60,000 for it.

“It’s like standing below Yosemite or the Matterhorn and I never get tired of looking at it,” he says, sipping his tea.

Life may be beautiful here, but it hasn’t been easy. In the past Van Dusen has had to evacuate because of flooding. Landslides took out the road a half-mile away in 2009.

“This is a dangerous place and that’s become much more apparent to me now. Maybe that hillside is a danger to me,” he says, looking towards the steep foothills of Mount Index less than a quarter-mile away. “I didn’t think it was but maybe it is.”

But Van Dusen says he can’t afford to leave. He delivers magazines and is starting to get some gigs as an actor, but things have been really hard since the recession.

“I’m about ready to go under. I turned the hot water off. I’m living without hot water. I don’t have TV, Comcast, I don’t have any of that. I get DVDs from the library. I use Wi-Fi in town for Internet access so I’m cut to the bare bones here,” he says.

Van Dusen says that as much as he loves the quiet and the wild spirit that drew him here in the first place, he wishes the government would buy all the residents out. People were meant to visit, not live here, he says.

“I would relocate maybe to Skagit County or somewhere out in the flatlands,” he says. “Someplace where I could grow some food and work on these cars.”

Early numbers show devastating toll of mudslide

Sofia Jaramillo / The HeraldAva Yeckley and Darby Morgan, both of Arlington, put up a sign Tuesday reading “We heart Oso” on Highway 530.

Sofia Jaramillo / The Herald
Ava Yeckley and Darby Morgan, both of Arlington, put up a sign Tuesday reading “We heart Oso” on Highway 530.


By Jerry Cornfield and Amy Nile, The Herald

OLYMPIA – The deadly March 22 Oso mudslide and subsequent flooding have caused at least $32.1 million in damage to public infrastructure, according to preliminary assessments by state and federal authorities.

Gov. Jay Inslee cited that figure Tuesday in a letter sent to President Barack Obama asking for federal assistance for local and tribal governments to help cover an array of costs incurred in clearing debris and repairing roads and waterways damaged by the disaster.

The slide not only wiped out the Steelhead Drive neighborhood, it has blocked the usual route into Darrington along Highway 530.

“The landslide and upstream flooding it caused brought down death and destruction on these tight-knit communities in Snohomish County,” Inslee said in a statement. “These are our friends and neighbors and we’re racing to help repair their roads and other public facilities in the Stillaguamish Valley. If the president acts on this request, we can help do the job even faster.”

Also late Tuesday, medical examiners said they had received the remains of 28 slide victims and have identified a total of 22. The names released today were: Brandy Ward, 58, Thom Satterlee, 65, Lon Slauson, 60 and Adam Farnes, 23.

The confirmations lowered the total of missing by two; 20 people still are presumed missing as a result of the slide.

On Monday, Inslee requested the president issue a Major Disaster Declaration to free up federal assistance for individuals, households and businesses affected by the disaster. This could include money for temporary housing and immediate needs, and unemployment insurance benefits.

In that letter, he pointed out 40 homes were destroyed and up to 30 families left in need of long- and short-term housing. It pegged the estimated damage to residences and structures at $10 million.

Inslee wants the president to make two public assistance programs available in Snohomish County, and to the Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish and Tulalip Indian Tribes.

The slide buried 6,000 feet of Highway 530. About 700 feet had been cleared by Tuesday.

Travis Phelps, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said it is too soon to know the highway’s condition.

“There is still a lot of Highway 530 under a lot of mud,” he said. “I am sure we are going to find portions that are damaged and portions that are OK. It is too soon to tell if it is completely demolished.”

The expanse of the Oso mudslide miniaturizes people and their machines.

The workers tasked with clearing the 1.2-square-mile debris field are comparing the devastation to 9/11.

“When you get down there, it looks like the World Trade Center,” said Ed Troyer, of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. “Instead of steel workers, it’s loggers.”

Gerry Bozarth, a debris specialist for Spokane Emergency Management, said the tangle in Oso is as complex as that from the terrorist attacks in New York.

Bozarth said searchers may never find all of the victims. The questions families have may never be answered.

Crews continued to search for the missing Tuesday. Some 600 yellow-and-orange-clad workers donned their hard hats. They were looking through piles of hazardous material sometimes 80 feet deep.

Crews are scratching the surface of the debris field, targeting the places they believe people most likely are buried. There are splintered trees, tires, shredded roof tops, pipes, chunks of walls and people’s photos strewn in the muck.

Water that earlier flooded a portion of the site on the southwest corner is now mostly gone.

“People were thinking air pockets, but there were no air pockets,” Troyer said.

Search conditions have improved since the first few days when crews spent much of their time fighting the water.

“It created a hazardous material soup that was exhausting to crews,” Bellevue Fire Lt. Richard Burke said. “They were sinking to their chests in this muck.”

While pumps droned constantly, moving the water out, crews weren’t hauling dirt away.

The contaminated soil is shoveled, sorted for people’s belongings, then piled up. Right now, it is not being moved off site.

Workers and search dogs must go through a decontamination process before leaving to limit the risk of spreading diseases such as dysentery.

On Tuesday, a sour smell rose from the site. It seemed to be a combination of spilled septic tanks, fuel, household products and exhaust from heavy machinery

The operation is much more organized nearly a dozen days after the slide, officials said. Soldiers and others have stepped in, relieving some of the weary workers.

“We want to go home and look the citizens of Oso and say we did our best,” Burke said.

“The strength in this community and their commitment to one another is just unbelievable.”