World & Nation

Washington landslide survivors gather to share prayers, strength

Townsfolk in Oso, Wash., gather for a church service eight days after the devastating landslide that killed at least 18 people.

OSO, Wash. -- Inside Oso Community Chapel on Sunday, locals gathered for a service eight days after a devastating landslide killed at least 18 people, including a 4-month-old girl and her grandmother.

There were tears and despair but also songs and joy for those saved from the disaster. Thirty people remain missing.

“We pray for strength and endurance for all those working on the rescues,” Tim Alskog said.

He wore one of the green printed “Oso Strong” T-shirts that have become a common sight around town. Proceeds from the shirts go to survivors and the families of those who died.


Others wore yellow ribbons. Outside the chapel, where sunshine mixed with some rain, a yellow ribbon waved from a tree. Nearby, there was a cross fashioned from flowers.

The Rev. Gary Ray told the congregation and visitors that he was unprepared for the nature of the disaster, the ongoing uncertainty and grief.

Ray, who moved here from California, said,  "I’ve been through earthquakes, Northridge, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Also Sunday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee refused to say that all hope was lost.


“Look, we are hoping for a miracle,” Inslee said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And more importantly, we are working for a miracle. And we’re doing everything humanly possible if that opportunity exists.”

Inslee said the rescue effort was “fully resourced” but that locals and officials faced a “monumental” task to restore State Route 530, the main highway through Oso connecting the nearby towns of Arlington and Darrington.

Addressing a 1999 report that warned of the potential for catastrophic failure on the hill that collapsed on March 22, Inslee said officials would “get to the bottom” of whether the disaster was foreseeable.

“It’s going to take a lot of work, months of geological research,” Inslee said. “But right now ... we are focused like a laser beam on rescuing anyone who could be subject to a miracle. And also taking care of these families.”

To the east of Oso Community Chapel, State Route 530 remained closed, blocked by a mix of what they call blue clay mud, downed alder, fir and cedars.

To the west, the Oso Fire Department is awash in volunteers and donations, with crews working the landslide scene, known as “the pile,” in shifts.

Relatives of the missing stop by, checking for news. Some have joined in the search.

Ray, the pastor, tried to steel those in the chapel for what will likely be a prolonged recovery. 


“The first memorial service hasn’t even taken place yet. The road is still closed and the river situation hasn’t been taken care of. We’re on the front end of this,” he said. “In the days to come, who knows what we might lose?”

He and others encouraged residents to band together.

Nicole Stinson and her husband have been volunteering at the fire station. She has relatives who are firefighters up on the pile, and knows some of those killed by the landslide, including Christina Jefferds, a grandmother who died along with her infant granddaughter, Sanoah Huestis. Jefferds’ husband, Seth, is  searching for other victims.

Stinson talked about her family’s work volunteering in the search.

“Oso being on the map in this matter is horrible, but God does work through this tragedy to his own good,” she said.

Stinson lives near the fire station, and her house has become a pit stop for volunteers. No one asks how anyone else is doing, she said. They all know.

Stinson said she was at the fire station Friday when a woman stopped by with a baby, hoping for news of her husband, who is still missing.

“Your brain says it’s a recovery; your heart says it’s a rescue. Does it really matter? We just want all of our people to have closure,” she said later.


In his closing prayer, Gary Irby, 46, had a message of hope:

“There’s more hurt to come, but joy comes in the morning.”