530 mudslide devastates community

Rain hampered efforts of search and rescue workers in Oso. This image was taken on March 27. Washington Post photo by Richard Johnson.


Freshman Ali Steenis remembers scrolling through her Twitter feed on March 22 just minutes after it happened. Thumbing through recent tweets, Steenis stumbled on a tweet from the Everett Herald, a local Snohomish newspaper, with a link to an article on a massive mudslide that had just happened between Oso and Darington, Wash.

“WSP: Highway 530 is blocked in both directions after a large mudslide near #Oso. Drivers should avoid the area,” @EverettHerald said.

The tweet had been posted at 10:50 a.m., roughly 10 minutes after the slide had occurred. Steenis was shocked and confused.

“It was definitely really scary … but I was also really confused,” Steenis said. “Both Oso and Darington are on the side of the mountain range… I questioned whether it was actually a catastrophe or something that just stopped traffic.”

Often seen on campus with her guide dog and cane, Steenis was diagnosed with Congenital Amaurosis in her junior year of high school. She reads texts and tweets from her phone through a text-to-speech app installed on her phone called VoiceOver.

Before the mudslide, Oso had a population of about 180. Darrington had around 1,350. Initial reports estimated dozens of deaths. As of early  Wednesday morning, the death toll is currently at 33, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office. All but three bodies have been identified. Twelve names remain on the missing persons list.

As the news of the mudslide and its destruction spread, Steenis said that she began to grasp the personal repercussions of the mudslide when she learned that a family she knew through her former 4-H club lost their home due to flooding from the mudslide.

“Their house is located outside the area directly affected by the landslide, but it was flooded up to the second story,” Steenis said. “They had to go on rowboats to rescue their seven horses.”

Steenis has since donated her own clothing and other household items to the family affected by the flooding and is organizing a benefit dinner and auction in Snohomish county to aid in the recovery of those impacted.

“I think people sometimes think it’s overrated to donate…but it really does help,” Steenis said. “I don’t think people realize how much flooding has affected the surrounding areas or how widespread it really is.”

According to AP reports, the slide was 135 feet wide, 180 feet deep and completely covered a section of State Route 530. It was caused by groundwater saturation due to heavy rain in the area over the past month.

Throughout the day, Steenis said that The Herald posted additional photos and links to updated stories. According to one post, three people had been killed and at least eight more, including a six-month-old baby, had been hurt. Another said that at least six homes had been destroyed and others buried beneath 15 feet to 20 feet of mud, rock and debris. Others added that officials deemed it too dangerous to send in rescue workers, though voices could be heard calling out from the mudslide debris.

Freshman Sarah Lunstrum said that she first became aware of the mudslide when her family was called to standby in assisting initial rescue and relief efforts. Lustrum’s family was asked to assist through a cold-weather shelter they regularly volunteer with in her hometown of Monroe, Wash.

“I definitely didn’t connect the news about Oso to a big mudslide at first,” Lunstrum said. “When I started hearing about fundraising and the long list of people missing, that’s when I realized how bad it was.”

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