Disaster costly for 'landlocked' mudslide survivors

Story by John Iwasaki / Photos by Chris Huber

More than a month after a deadly mudslide swept through the community of Oso, Washington, the search continues for victims following President Obama's April 22 visit.

Leanne Whittle receives a family food kit from Reed Slattery, manager of World Vision's field site in Fife, Washington, during her first visit to the Darrington Food Bank.

Leanne Whittle receives a family food kit from Reed Slattery, manager of World Vision's field site in Fife, Washington, during her first visit to the Darrington Food Bank.

The March 22 disaster, which has claimed at least 41 lives (two remain missing), also is affecting survivors and local residents in less publicized but still costly ways.

The west side of the disaster area has gotten most of the attention and donations because of its accessibility to the Interstate 5 corridor north of Seattle. But east of Oso, the logging town of Darrington became "landlocked" when the mudslide blocked Washington State Highway 530, says Michael Duncan, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in Darrington.

With its direct link cut off, Darrington's residents—many of whom work, shop, and get healthcare in Arlington, Everett, and other cities to the west—must make a long detour.

"It used to take us one-half hour [to drive to Arlington]. Now it takes two hours," says Leanne Whittle, after she loaded several boxes of groceries into her car at the Darrington Food Bank a few days before Easter.

"This is the first time I've had to come here," she says, explaining that with more money going toward gasoline for the four-hour roundtrip, less money is available for food. "This will help a lot, especially with Easter dinner."

Ray Coleman, who helps run the Darrington Food Bank, holds ingredients for a rice-and-bean casserole included in World Vision's family food kits.

Ray Coleman, who helps run the Darrington Food Bank, holds ingredients for a rice-and-bean casserole included in World Vision's family food kits.

World Vision delivered 300 family food kits to the food bank April 16 and plans to help some families clean up and rebuild their homes to the east of Oso. The organization earlier delivered 125 clean-up kits, 156 personal hygiene kits, and 300 family food kits to Oso Community Church on the west side of the disaster site.

The mudslide made an immediate impact on a number of people the Darrington Food Bank helps, says Ray Coleman, who helps run the operation in the basement of First Baptist Church.

"We went from feeding 500 people per week to over 1,800 per week," he says. "For a town of 1,300, that's not insignificant."

The food bank users are "usually adults with their kids," says Cindy Nichols, a volunteer, as she sorted and stocked canned vegetables.

People from beyond Darrington also visit the food bank, says Coleman, a retired truck driver who did not take a day off from working at the food bank until three weeks after the mudslide. He knows of people whose daily roundtrip commutes are five hours or more: "That's a tank of gas."

Hughlene Meredith, a food bank visitor with her daughter, knows about that. She twice drove south of Seattle for recent medical appointments. "Gas is eating me up," she says.

Yellow netting creates a sign of hope near the center of Darrington, a town grappling with the loss of life and destruction in the nearby community of Oso.

Yellow netting creates a sign of hope near the center of Darrington, a town grappling with the loss of life and destruction in the nearby community of Oso.

The extra hours on the road also mean workers leave earlier and return later, increasing the cost of child care as well as gas.

Coleman knows of mechanics who commute to work in Arlington. They are "squeezing by" while earning $18 per hour, "so people making $12 per hour are hurting pretty bad," he says.

In the midst of difficult times, yellow ribbons are abundant in Darrington. Affixed to a sign pointing to the town center is yellow netting creating 3-foot letters spelling "HOPE."

Duncan, the pastor, calls Darrington "a remarkably resilient town. When there's damage, people say, 'Let's fix it.'" He wonders what will happen to his community in the long term.

It's a concern shared by Richard Anderson, a food bank volunteer.

"We fear donations will slow down," he says, "but the needs are going to be here."

World Vision's Reed Slattery spoke to several homeowners with damaged dwellings on the Darrington side of the mudslide to find out their needs. He told one woman that World Vision is working on arrangements with volunteers and donors to help her remove rotted drywall and to provide building materials.

"She was overwhelmed," says Slattery, manager of World Vision's field site in Fife, Washington. "She said, 'I didn't know where we were going to turn next.' I told her, 'We're ready to walk with you for the long haul.'"

Deploying Supplies to disaster survivors

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Pray for children, families, and communities affected by the Washington mudslide. Pray for those who lost loved ones and/or property. Also pray that those impacted would find the help they need.

Make a one-time donation to our U.S. Disaster Response Fund. Your gift will help us respond quickly and effectively to life-threatening emergencies right here in the United States.

 

World Vision also is seeking volunteers at its Pacific Northwest warehouse in Fife, Washington, to support the organization's relief efforts. Volunteers will help sort, prepare, and pack cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, and other supplies. (Volunteers also are welcome throughout the year to help with our ongoing warehouse needs.)

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