The Oso Mudslide – Heartbreak and Hope in My Backyard

The Oso Mudslide – Heartbreak and Hope in My Backyard

It made national news, so I am sure most people are aware that last Saturday, at about 11 am, the worst natural disaster since Mount St. Helens erupted occurred in Washington state.  A giant mudslide wiped out an entire neighborhood in the town of Oso, Washington, and continued right across State Highway 530, taking out cars driving along on the road.


I’ll try to put this into some context.  The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 killed 57 people, and there were warning signs and evacuation orders.  As of this writing, there are 90 people confirmed missing, with 25 people confirmed dead.  At the time of the 2010 census, Oso had a population of 180 people.  If those numbers have remained consistent, then a large part of the community has been wiped out by this one natural disaster.  Among the confirmed dead are a little 4 month old girl, and her grandmother, who was babysitting her for the afternoon.  First responders are slogging through a massive debris field, covered in mud and felled trees.  To get an idea of scale, the Seattle Times published an interactive map on their website that allows you to see the topography of the area, and the devastation wreaked by the mudslide.

This week has been a particularly busy and difficult one in my community.  Oso is located about 50 miles from where I live.  I learned early in the week that the father of one of my sister’s friends is searching for a cousin who is on the list of the missing.  An older couple, friends of my mother’s, have been evacuated out of their home near the river and been told to stay out, and are currently staying with friends.  Our local groups have banded together and teamed up with nearby food banks to meet the needs in the affected communities (with a state highway blocked off, the detours are quite extensive) and to get supplies to the search and rescue teams who have been out in the field.  The group I belong to, which is a part of the Buy Nothing Project, has been able to get food and toiletries to a food bank near Oso by using the connections forged through social media and personal relationships.

The questions about the mudslide itself is currently secondary to the desperation of the families who have been ripped apart.  Those families are hoping to find their loved ones, even as hope has faded that there will be any more survivors.  But what has struck me this week has been the willingness of people to reach out and provide for their neighbor in a time of crisis.

I experienced this personally myself while out shopping at a local Target.  I had a cart full of baby things – food, wipes, shampoo, lotion, cereal, diapers – all intended for the next run up to the food bank.  When the cashier commented on the quantity of baby stuff I was purchasing (and presuming it was for my 12 month old son, who was with me), I told her that it was headed north to the Darrington Food Bank, to aid the community around the mudslide area.  She nodded, saying that her father is a first responder with a local fire station, and his station has been involved in supporting the rescue effort.  And as we were talking about the sheer and sudden devastation, a lady behind me in line handed the cashier $20, saying, “I want that to go toward her stuff.”

Yes, I cried, but I managed to hold it together until I got to my car.

It is always in the worst of moments that we are capable of seeing the best in humanity.  In moments of crisis, when people are given a real and tangible way to help, they often will.  Many times, we are driven to do more than just text a number to the Red Cross to give a donation.  Sometimes, we get a chance to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy and simply love our neighbors.  Even if it’s just with a much-needed package of toilet paper.  Remember that even in the midst of some truly heartbreaking stories, the hope that we care for our fellow man still lives.

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