Mudslide community copes with uncertainty

Nikki Behner had to evacuate her Oso home after the devastating mudslide, and she doesn’t know when she can go home. She speaks at a prayer vigil.

OSO, Wash. -- Nikki Behner had to evacuate her home here after the devastating mudslide that left 16 confirmed dead and dozens missing.

She told a community meeting Wednesday night that she and her husband were staying with her animals in a friend’s barn.

“We’re lucky. We have friends who are still in hotels, spending money they don’t have,” she told a crowd of about 50 gathered in the 100-year-old white frame Oso Chapel. It’s on Highway 530, a short drive from where the mudslide blocked the highway.

PHOTOS: Washington mudslide

Officials told Behner there was still a risk of the Stillaguamish River flooding in the Oso Valley.


“Nobody’s willing to say you’re really safe yet,” she said.

Behner, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, said she was well-equipped to deal with some uncertainty. But this has proved too much. She has two friends who were injured in the slide and remain hospitalized. Others are dead. Even the list of the dead is still in flux with so many missing -- 90, officials said earlier in the evening, with the fate of another 35 possibly in doubt.

The chapel erected a cross out front for the victims, and it plans to add a plaque once the names of the dead are known.

“We don’t know who to be sad about,” Behner said, her voice breaking.

She has lived in the valley for 30 years, and said she felt safe before the mudslide and still does.

“This wasn’t a mudslide,” she said, not the kind locals are accustomed to. “This was a mountain that collapsed.

“People say those people should have known and shouldn’t have bought there. Nobody could have known,” she said.

Despite being displaced and her concerns about potential flooding, Behner plans to return home and is sure others will rebuild.

“I’m going to take my chances,” she said. “There’s no way we’re leaving our valley. You can’t live in fear of nature.”