It’s been three weeks now since the landslide hit the tiny community of Oso. Those residents and people from the nearby towns of Darrington and Arlington are still grieving and still trying to pick up the pieces. And one huge impediment is highway 530: parts of it are still closed. That’s the main thoroughfare there. For Darrington residents, not having that road is a big problem. Mayor Dan Rankin says his town is kind of a disaster within a disaster.
Rankin: "A commuter that has a lower paying wage, you know a $15/hour wage that was getting by living here now can’t drive around. They either have to find housing down below or they have to quit their job and stay here. If they have family or children in our school dist, it’s a disruption in that arena."
Mayor Rankin says even if they decide to make the commute, that’s an extra hour in both directions. It’s only about one mile of the highway that’s still blocked by landslide mud and debris. In some places, the debris is 20 feet deep. But it’s not like crews can just go in and bulldoze. Travis Phelps, with the Washington Department Of Transportation:
Phelps: "I mean if this was a typical landslide with just mud, we could clear this road no problem and start rebuilding it, but there are human remains there. We need to be respectful. That’s really going to increase the time it takes to clear this roadway to make sure we can get in there, identify anyone we’ve found, do this slow, meticulous work."
Phelps says it’s a very delicate operation. There are also personal belongings in the debris field. And, he says, the future of the highway is even unclear. Would the locals prefer a memorial there instead of simply rebuilding the highway exactly where it once stood? Phelps says Wash-DOT will work closely with the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office and the entire community as it proceeds.
copyright 2014, KLCC