Natural Disasters

The Oso Slide – 2 – Tragedy and Memorial

Saturday, March, 22, 2014. 10:36 a.m. A moment in time. Before that moment 43 children, women, and men were living ordinary lives. After that moment in time, the world changed for dozens of people. This post is a story of tragedy in northwestern Washington state. It is also a story of the aftermath, rescue, and remembrance, a story about a living memorial at Steelhead Drive and State Route 530.

43 Trees for Oso

Mudslides can be caused by multiple circumstances. Excessive rain and snow over days and weeks, topsoil soaked, previous slides in the same area that loosen the binding of the soil. I addressed some of those causes, and the advance notice the residents had, in detail in the first part of this series, The Oso Slide. On the morning of March 22, 2014, roughly 50 to 60 people were living and working in the historic Hazel area of the valley of the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. This was a rural neighborhood known by the name of the road that served the residents, Steelhead Drive.

The People at Steelhead

Saturday at 10:36 am, on March 22, 2014, was a workday for some folks. Amanda Lennick, 31, a nurse at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, was watching three workers she had scheduled to complete some projects in her newly purchased home. Steve Neal, 55, was a plumber who was installing a new water heater. He was working on the water heater with Bill Welsh, 66, an electrician and friend. Steve Hadaway, 53, worked for DISH network and was installing a TV connection for Amanda. (No photo of Steve Neal was available)

Alan Bejvl, 21, and Delaney Webb, 19, were engaged. They were planning to buy some land and build a log cabin near the river. They’d been staying with her grandparents, Debbie and Thom Satterlee. (No clear photos of Alan Bejvl and Delaney Webb)

Debbie Satterlee, 61, was encouraging the vegetables in her large garden while her husband Thom, 65, was encouraging her.

Linda McPherson, 69, and her husband Mac were sitting in their living room, possibly reading the morning paper. Mac survived.

John, 49, and Kris, 44, Regelbrugge were at home, starting their Saturday. Their youngest son had just left the house for his job at a lumber mill.

Christina Jefferds, 45, was watching her infant granddaughter, Sanoah Huestis, 4 months. Was it time to feed the baby? Did she need to be changed?

Summer Raffo, 36, had planned a busy day. She worked as a custodian at Darrington High School during the week, and part time as a farrier. On that morning, she was driving on State Route 530, heading for a horse shoeing appointment.

Billy Spillers, 30, was at home with his kids. A chief petty office working at the Everett Naval Shipyard, he was doing his daddy thing with Kaylee, 5, Jacob, 4, Brooke, 2, and his stepson, Jojo, 13. Jacob was pulled from the mud and survived. Joninelle, his wife wasn’t home.

Joe Miller, 47, was an amateur photographer who occasionally sold some of his pictures at local fairs and did a variety of odd jobs. He lived with his dad, Reed, who was out. (No photo of Joe Miller)

Denver Harris, 14, might have been having a sword fight with an imaginary opponent, a frequent pastime. Denver was home alone.

Tom Durnell, 65, was a retired carpenter and stage manager who would have been building custom furniture at home. His wife Debbie was at work.

Always busy, Brandy Ward, 58, could have been canning vegetables, sewing, knitting, making jellies for friends and neighbors, or making something for her grandchildren. He husband Tim was out in the yard.

Adam Farnes, 23, worked for Shane and Katie at Mountain Lion Glass in Arlington. Adam had been a Cub Scout leader in his spare time. Adam lived with his mother and father, Julie Farnes, 59, and Gerald Farnes. The couple planned to become snowbirds and spend lots of time with their grandchildren. Gerald wasn’t home that morning.

Shelley Bellomo, 55, and Jerry Logan, 63, were long-time partners. She loved the river, and might have been bird watching from their home that Saturday morning. On most Saturday mornings, Jerry went to buy a cup of coffee and cigarettes. He was still at home.

Steve, 52, and Theresa Harris, 53, lived in a condo in Edmonds. They liked to spend their weekends at their cabin near the river to fish, walk along the river, and relax.

Larry, 58, and Sandy, 64, Miller owned a roofing company in Seattle. On that Saturday, they were standing in front of the new home on the river they were moving into, talking to Ron DeQuilettes, 52, an electrician who also did blacktop work, planning their driveway.

Mike Pearson, 74, was a loner. Friends said he could have lived off the land. Sometimes he drove his pickup into the mountains and brought back logs that he’d split to heat his home. A former police office and Marine, he lived alone.

An extended family was having a good Saturday morning working in their neighboring houses on the river. Shane, 43, and Katie, 34, Ruthven were talking about the new contracts they’d signed for their glass business. Shane had recently moved his mother and step-father, JuDee, 64, and Lou, 71, Vandenburg, to the house next door to be near their grandsons, Wyatt, 4, and Hunter, 6, Ruthven.

The first time Ron Slauson, 59, dealt with a mudslide was in 2006, when a landslide diverted the Stilly through his yard, taking out his shed, outhouse, and driveway. The Corps of Engineers rerouted the river after that slide. On this morning, he was probably on his porch, listening to birds singing and the river rushing by. (No photo of Ron Slauson)

Mark Gustafson, 54, was from Belt, Montana. He had family there, and lived alone near the Stillaguamish River. (No photo of Mark Gustafson)

Bonnie, 91, and Larry, 81, Gullikson had a son and two daughters, 11 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and 23 great-great-grandchildren. On Saturday morning, she was either fishing or knitting presents for family and friends. Larry survived. (No photo of Bonnie and Larry Gullikson)

Jerry, 74, and Gloria, 67, Halstead retired from Boeing. They lived in an RV when they first moved to the river. Later, they moved into a mobile home. They were in the mobile home that morning, drinking coffee, perhaps playing cribbage or working jigsaw puzzles. (No photo of Jerry and Gloria Halstead)

Photos are not available for all of the victims of the slide. These photos of victims and family members are from a variety of internet sources, including family members, Facebook, and the Seattle Times.

The Slide

At 10:37 on the morning of March 22, 2014, the world changed tragically for all of these people, and for their families and friends, the community, the state of Washington, and beyond. The slide was so rapid that Summer Raffo was caught in her car while she was driving at highway speeds on State Route 530. The highway was across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, a mile away from the base of the slide. She was found in her car beneath tons of debris.

The Steelhead Drive neighborhood was destroyed, buried by a fast moving wall of mud roughly 1 mile square and 30 to 70 feet deep. Forty-three children, women, and men lost their lives, and 49 homes and other structures were destroyed. Excluding landslides caused by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and dam failures, the Oso slide is the deadliest single landslide in US history.

Volunteers, local fire, sheriff, and police departments, Washington National Guard, and rescue experts from across the country came to help. Family members spent days searching for loved ones. President Obama declared a state of emergency to enable Federal support from FEMA.

The extent of the Oso slide is seen in the images below. The aerial image (the first image) is from an aerial survey showing the extent and impacts from the landslide in northwest Washington that occurred on March 22, 2014. The survey was conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, USGS, and King County Sheriff’s Office.(Credit: Air Support Unit, King County Sheriff’s Office. Public domain.)

The second image is an oblique aerial photograph of the 2014 landslide in northwest Washington. This image shows the entire extent of the landslide source area and path. This event is commonly named the “Oso Landslide” in many official reports. It is also referred to as the “SR530 Landslide,” as named by Snohomish County and Washington State. Credit: Mark Reid, USGS (public domain)

My images of the slide, below, were taken from ground level n 2020 and 2021.

The Oso slide caused tragic loss of life and destruction of homes. To honor those who died and to keep their memories, the area is now a memorial. The hills of mud and debris from the fallen hillside (in the middle of the two images above) are considered sacred ground, and visitors are asked to stay behind the row of pilings bordering the Whitehorse Trail, visible in the left image.

Steel Mailboxes

The lost homes are also remembered. Inside the gate that bears carved wooden messages of hope, a low concrete pedestal is home to 19 steel mailboxes, each with a Steelhead Drive address, an address destroyed by the slide.

The Trees at Oso Memorial

The most touching and powerful way of remembering those who lost their lives in the Oso Slide is an array of 43 cedar trees, planted in three rows between the Whitehorse Trail and State Route 530. One tree for each life lost. Each tree has a small, heart-shaped, wooden plaque on the ground near the tree. The name of the person that the living tree represents is burned into the plaque. In addition, family and friends have left a special remembrance – flowers, a teddy bear, a rock painted like a bowling ball, horseshoes, flags, items that would have been important to the departed.

These are the ways that each victim is remembered:

Amanda Lennick, Bill Welsh, Steven Hadaway, Steve Neal, Thom Satterlee, Marcy Satterlee

Linda McPherson, John Regelbrugge, Kris Regelbrugge, Sanoah Huestis, Christina Jefferds, Summer Raffo

Billy Spillers, Kaylee Spillers, Brooke Spillers, Jojo Mangual, Joe Miller, Denver Harris

Tom Durnell, Brandy Ward, Shelley Bellomo, Jerry Logan, Theresa Harris, Steve Harris

Hunter Ruthven, Wyatt Ruthven, Katie Ruthven, Shane Ruthven, Lou Vandenburg, Judee Vandenburg

Jerry Halstead, Gloria Halstead, Larry Miller, Sandy Miller, Bonnie Gullikson, Ron DeQuilettes,

Mike Pearson, Ron Slauson, Mark Gustafson, Adam Farnes, Julie Farnes

Delaney Webb, Alan Bejvl

Sanoah was 4 months, Bonnie was 91. The Ruthven-Vandenburg extended family were together. Delaney and Alan had been engaged a few months. Larry and Sandy, Steve and Teresa, John and Kris, Debbie and Thom, Shelley and Jerry had been together for years. Julie and Adam were mother and son. Some were single, some had spouses and family who weren’t home at the time. The Oso Slide did not discriminate. The tragedy befell individuals and families and the community. Those who passed cannot be brought back, but they can be and are remembered. The Oso Slide Memorial, sacred ground, steel mailboxes, personally decorated cedar trees, these help keep their memories alive.

The setting is grand and beautiful, a Pacific Northwest river valley between green hills and snow-capped mountains. The Memorial is a touching memory of folks taken by an extraordinary natural disaster. The drive, and the Memorial, will encourage deep thoughts, and perhaps help to connect you with your own family and friends. If you have some time, drive east on State Route 530, or take a hike or bike ride on the Whitehorse Trail. The Oso Slide Memorial is about 16 miles from Arlington. I think you’ll find the trip worthwhile.

Memory and Hope at Oso

A steel field gate separates a short parking space from the Oso Slide Memorial. Behind the gate are the washed-down mounds of mud and debris and the bare cliff of the slide. The Whitehorse Trail runs left to right across the middle of the image. The gate bears wooden signs of hope and memory and inspiration. A memorial to those who perished on March 22, 2014 in the Oso Slide.

All of the images in this post, are mine, except as otherwise noted. My photos of the slide and the memorial are available for purchase as archival paper and canvas wall hangings, and as household items like cups, towels, pillows, and shower curtains at my Oso Washington gallery site, at Tom Cochran Vagabond Photography. The images and text in this post are copyrighted by me, dba Tom Cochran Vagabond Photography.

All of these images are copyrighted by me, dba Tom Cochran Vagabond Photography, except as otherwise noted, and are available for purchase as archival paper and canvas images, as well as household items such as cups, towels, and even shower curtains. You’ll find all these images and others that you might enjoy at Tom Cochran Vagabond Photography. I hope you’ll visit soon.

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