The devastating landslide in Washington that killed 43 people, from a 4-month-old girl to an 91-year-old woman, also left what officials described as “critical” highway between two small cities unusable.
Sixty-nine days after the landslide struck, 18 million gallons of mud have been bulldozed aside — enough to open one lane of the two-lane State Route 530 to traffic on Saturday.
“Our mission was to reconnect communities who have already lost so much, and do it in a respectful manner,” state transportation official Lorena Eng said in a statement Friday.
Authorities planned to station flagmen on the route to direct traffic on the one-lane stretch through Oso, between Arlington and Darrington.
Traffic started flowing about noon Saturday after members of the community walked the route and observed a moment of silence.
The opening was marked by cheers in Darrington, which was holding its annual Darrington Day festival on Saturday.
“Darrington is open for business!!” declared the city’s Facebook page.
The work to reopen the route cost about $3.5 million, the state said. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent rescuing survivors and recovering bodies from the square mile of thick mud that shattered what was once a quiet riverside community.
Many residents had known a landslide was coming, but geologists said it would have been impossible to expect a slide as large and quickly moving as the one that struck on a Saturday morning in late March.
Officials have identified 42 of the bodies recovered from the mud; the body of a 44-year-old woman hasn’t been found.
In the wake of the landslide, authorities opened to regular traffic a gravel-strewn mountain road meant for utility workers. Now the traffic can return to the usual route, though gravel and tiny pools of water now cover a 600-foot-stretch that authorities said went “missing” because of the landslide. In total, three miles of highway had been closed since the slide.
The highway might not fully reopen until at least October. The state plans to spend $21 million in federal funds to raise the highway to protect it from future flooding.