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At Oso mudslide, 10:37 a.m. is marked by bowed heads, silence, grief

Disasters and AccidentsAvalanches and LandslidesWashington Mudslide (2014)

OSO, Wash. -- Washington residents paused Saturday to observe a statewide moment of silence at 10:37 a.m., exactly a week after a devastating mudslide tore through this rural mountain town.

The death toll stands at 17, with 90 more still missing. Those in this river valley about 60 miles north of Seattle are struggling not just with the horrific aftermath of the mudslide -- the deaths -- but with the prospect of more to come if the missing are confirmed dead.

Saturday dawned rainy and cold at the site of the mudslide south of the Stillaguamish River. Workers who had found an American flag amid the rubble hung it at half-staff from a tree near the middle of the mucky expanse still littered with debris.

As the moment approached, firefighters, members of the National Guard and volunteers removed their hard hats, stood with hands folded and faced the flag.

The clamor of ATV motors, beeping trucks and radio traffic faded.

A message came across the radio: “Please join us in a moment of silence in honor of victims and loved ones of the Oso landslide. We continue to wish strength and hope.”

The only sound was the rain. At 10:38, work resumed.

Steve Mason, a battalion chief with the Snohomish County fire department, said everyone at the site was weary.

“The mental toll is just having to sift through this, and what they’re finding. It’s something that is hard on people,” Mason said. “There’s no one out here who hasn’t been touched by the magnitude of what’s going on.”

Workers were bagging belongings recovered from the tangle of brush and debris, shipping them out to be decontaminated, sorted, and returned to their owners if possible. They have found classical music records, gun safes, wallets, ATVs and snapshots.

Hundreds of photographs salvaged from the mud were assembled on a table, shielded from the rain by a white tent. There were pictures of children and families, including whole photo albums. Some were nearly covered with mud, others almost pristine. Beside them lay a pile of blank labels.

Back at the Oso fire station, firefighters and volunteers also gathered and bowed their heads for the moment of silence. Volunteers talked about trying to move forward.

“Half of Oso is gone. That’s devastating,” said Mike Holter, 56, a drywaller from Arlington who went to the station to help and spent the moment of silence contemplating the community’s loss. One of the women killed in the slide was a friend who used to care for his horses.

“I cry every day,” he said. “We all do.”

Bartender Tera Wallen of nearby Stanwood stood with firefighters for the moment of silence, then gave them a $2,086 donation culled from co-workers’ tips.

“I don’t think people realize how big this was -- how nasty. They’re going to be digging for months, and the more rain there is, the nastier it will be,” she said.

Jim and Sandy Dallman were up the road from the station Saturday at Oso Chapel, where they stood by the road for the moment of silence with about a dozen others in front of a flowered cross erected after the disaster.

She works at a local hardware store, and has seen a steady flow of volunteers buying supplies. A father and son came in to buy a pickax to search for a loved one. Two young men came for shovels to help find a friend’s brother. Gary “Mac” McPherson, 81, came looking for a new Carhart jacket to replace the one he lost in the slide, which he had managed to dig his way out of. He also lost his wife of more than 40 years, Linda McPherson, 69, a retired librarian.

On Saturday, Jim Dallman, 71, spoke with an elder from the Baptist chapel about how to explain to the congregation why God would do such a thing.

He had heard about a couple who narrowly escaped the slide, having left moments before for a quick run to Costco. They had planned an event for a church youth group of up to 50, but the trip was postponed.

“To me, that’s a miracle,” Dallman said. “We have to be careful not to overlook the miracles.”

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