Oso Mudslide Updates from Governor Inslee's Office

The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, April 22, 2014, page A3

 http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/

After Slide, Worries Remain

One Month Later, Residents Fret About Well Water, Blocked Roads and Flooding
By Joel Millman

OSO, Wash.—A month after one of the most lethal landslides in U.S. history, shock and grief are giving way to frazzled nerves, with residents demanding to know if their well water is safe, when blocked roads will reopen and whether they will get timely warnings of future slides.

Officials, meanwhile, are saying that before they can turn their attention to what might happen in the future, they must continue dealing with the slide's immediate aftermath.

As President Barack Obama plans to visit the area on Tuesday, the search for victims is ongoing. Remains are still being retrieved from the 30-feet-high debris field; the death toll rose to 41 on Monday, with at least two people missing.

Related Video: A mixture of heavy rain and soft soil created a recipe for disaster in Oso, Wash. WSJ's Jason Bellini reports. Photo: Next Media Animation

Still, officials say they too worry about potential new hazards, including the likelihood of flooding later this year since the Stillaguamish River, which runs through the slide site, is more than 10 feet above its level before the March 22 mudslide.

"Fall rains are coming and there will be flooding upstream that didn't used to be there" due to river blockage caused by the slide, Snohomish County Director of Public Works Steve Thomsen told one gathering. "There's a giant plug in the valley 30 feet deep. Imagine a giant beaver dam. A beaver dam on steroids."

The search continues day and night, with 600 or more workers on site. They comb through the slide zone with machinery, cadaver dogs and bare hands.

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a 2,000-foot-long earthen berm to allow standing water to be drained so searchers can get closer to where they believe victims are buried. Previously, they relied on divers working in near-zero visibility.

During daylight, 19 excavators claw at the gray ground. Mud-caked tree trunks snap as steel claws scoop up the debris.

 Each bucket raised is placed before a team of workers with rakes, who comb through it searching for anything that residents might want to claim. Refrigerators and propane tanks that may hold contaminants are stacked near recovered vehicles, many wrinkled like crushed beer cans. Septic tanks are pumped out as they are discovered.

Some residents are concerned that soil from the slide is contaminated and, if left in place, will damage the value of properties nearby. But David Byers, response manager for Washington state's Department of Ecology, said sampling showed "no elevated contamination threat."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee acknowledged last week a concern about what authorities knew about risks in the area before the slide and precisely what warnings were issued, but said so far no official has been put in charge of examining the issue. Rebecca Hover, spokeswoman for the Snohomish County executive, said, "We're not there right now. We're focused on searching for victims and long-term recovery."

Cost estimates for the recovery are elusive, with nearly 100 federal, state and local agencies involved. On Friday, Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the state Military Department, tallied spending for a handful of state units—including State Police, National Guardsmen and the departments of Agriculture and Archaeology & Historic Preservation—at $10.4 million so far.

The state believes the damage estimate will top $53 million, a good portion of which may be reimbursed with federal funds, Ms. Shagren said. She predicted additional costs for highway restoration and other items could add "tens of millions" of dollars.  

On Monday, the U.S. Labor Department announced a $2.9 million grant for cleanup and recovery. On Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency disclosed $13 million for relief.

Another ongoing effort involves carving out an alternate to buried state Highway 530. A twisting gravel road has been improved sufficiently to let dump trucks and other heavy vehicles get to the slide site, and it soon may be open to residents, who now face a two-hour detour.  Even that may not ease the pressure on Darrington, a town of 1,300 residents east of Oso. "We were struggling before the slide," said Mayor Dan Rankin. "Now the rumor is we're losing residents every week."

With Highway 530 blocked, Darrington residents such as John Palmer, an electrician at a Boeing Co. BA +0.94% plant in Everett, Wash., are commuting five hours daily for work.

A looming concern is the fate of Darrington's largest employer, the Hampton Lumber Mill, whose 160 workers pump a payroll of nearly $10 million a year into the area. The blocked road has hampered log trucks from reaching the mill. Plant manager Tim Johnson said the mill soon may have to curtail operations a week each month to tamp down costs.

Julie Kuntz, who lost her aunt in the slide, recently moved to a rental in Darrington, where her son attends high school. She, her son and husband were in Tacoma when the slide hit. Like many others she is trying to negotiate with her lender for relief on the mortgage on her ruined home.

"I want to meet my obligations," said Ms. Kuntz, 43. "But we know we don't want to move back there. It's a graveyard: too many painful memories."

Disaster Aid

From the Federal Emergency Management Agency:

$5 million for search and rescue
$4 million for work by the Interior Department, U.S. Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers
$2 million for administrative costs, including operating disaster-recovery centers
$1.2 million for individual assistance such as housing

From the Labor Department:
$2.9 million for recovery

Sources:  FEMA, Labor Department

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday Evening SR530 Slide Update - April 7, 2014

Contact: 530slide@gmail.com

Arlington, Wash. – Three FEMA Disaster Relief Centers are open to assist residents who have been affected by the SR530 landslide. The centers are located at Haller Park, 154 West Cox Avenue in Arlington, the Oso Fire Station located at 21824 SR 530 NE, and the Darrington Ranger District Office, 1405 Emens St. in Darrington. The Disaster Recovery Centers will be open Monday through Friday from 11am to 8pm, Saturday from 11am to 4pm, and closed on Sunday. Residents should pre-register with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or at www.disasterassistance.gov. FEMA continues to work closely with residents, tribal members, and business owners who sustained losses on a one-on-one basis.

There are now 33 people confirmed dead in the slide, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner. Thirty of those victims have been identified. Twelve people are still missing, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. A private memorial service was held for one of the victims today. These services are private and closed to all but invited media. Please respect the privacy of the victims’ friends and families.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists continue to monitor the area and measure land movement. At this time, surveys have shown no significant movement of the landslide mass or nearby hillside. A time-lapse camera has been deployed to record changes in the area over time.

The Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Snohomish County with construction of a temporary berm to reduce flood impacts in the slide area. The berm will be constructed at SR 530 near milepost 37 at C Post Road and 312th Street NE. Workers began staging materials for the berm today, and the Corps expects construction to take a week. Once complete, searchers have ongoing and planned recovery activities after pumping excess water from the area.

Rain is forecast for the Oso area beginning tomorrow. There is no imminent threat of additional flooding but the flood warning remains in effect at and behind the slide area because normally dry land is under water.

 More than 900 people have been activated to assist in the recovery effort. In addition, 30 excavators and an amphibious backhoe are operating in the slide area. Crews continue to work in a grid pattern to remove slide debris down to the native soil. Volunteers are collecting, cleaning, and organizing personal property recovered from the slide. The process for reunification of property will be formalized over the next several weeks and family members will be contacted to identify and reclaim these personal items. To help protect the property of victims and their families, the location of the reunification site will not be disclosed.

The best way to support the landslide recovery effort is through a monetary donation. Anyone looking for ways to help can find a list of trusted charities collecting monetary donations on Snohomish County’s SR530 slide resources page: http://snohomishcountywa.gov/530Slide

For immediate release: April 6, 2014

Contact: 530slide@gmail.com

 

Arlington, Wash. – Of the nearly 900 searchers and support personnel assisting in the Oso slide recovery effort, 350 are National Guard soldiers. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified 29 of the 30 victims; 13 people are missing. An update is expected Monday morning, April 7.

 

An amphibious backhoe has been added to the east side of the search site where 267 acres are flooded near the Stillaguamish River. This is in addition to the 30 excavators currently in operation. Overnight rain caused water levels to increase up to a half foot in some areas. Warmer temperatures are projected for the next couple of weeks with some intermittent rainfall, which will aid search efforts.

 

The Army Corps of Engineers is assisting the county with construction of a temporary berm to reduce flood impacts and prevent near-term flooding of SR 530 near milepost 37 at C Post Road, where searchers have ongoing and planned recovery activities. The March 22 mudslide constricted flow of the Stillaguamish River and caused flooding upstream.

 

Hundreds of searchers continue the complex and laborious work of combing 40-foot by 40-foot sections of the expansive search site. Each section is slightly smaller than half a basketball court. After search dogs and searchers complete a search of the surface of the designated section, a team of searchers use excavators to painstakingly remove debris and mud in layers--two to four feet at a time--until they reach native soil. Safety continues to be a top priority for personnel and search dogs.

 

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Patty Murray, Representative Suzan DelBene, FEMA Director Craig Fugate, Governor Jay Inslee and other local officials were briefed on the ongoing efforts, met with first responders and reiterated their continued support.

 

A private memorial service was held today, and one service will be held tomorrow. These services are private and closed to all but invited media. Please respect the privacy of the victims’ friends and families.

 

The Darrington access road remains closed to the public and is strictly for operation and emergency responder traffic only.

 

A regularly scheduled community meeting will be held Monday at 7 p.m., at the Darrington Community Center, 570 Sauk Ave, Darrington, WA 98241. Media are welcome to attend, but are requested to leave recording devices outside.

 

Due to the overwhelming outpouring of donated items, local support organizations are inundated and cannot handle the volume. Anyone looking for how to help can find a list of trusted 501(c)3 charities collecting monetary donations on Snohomish County’s SR 530 slide resources page: http://snohomishcountywa.gov/530Slide.

 

As part of the response efforts, volunteers are collecting, cleaning and organizing personal property recovered from the slide. The process for reunification of property will be formalized over the next several weeks and family members will be contacted to identify and reclaim these personal items. To help protect the property of victims and their families, the location of the reunification site will not be disclosed

Oso Mudslide Update - April 1, 2014

Just a few quick updates for today.

 Governor Inslee sent a request to President Obama for a major disaster declaration in Snohomish County to make a number of programs available to assist individuals, households, and businesses. FEMA HQ received the declaration request late last night. There is no timeline yet for response, but we’ll keep people posted as soon as we receive a response. As a reminder, this request is separate from the earlier requests relating to an Emergency Declaration.

  • 26 dog teams are being phased in over next few days to assist with search efforts.
  • The need for emergency shelters is diminishing. The Darrington shelter has been placed on standby. The Arlington shelter is going to move to Smokey Point and only a few residents are there currently.
  • Snohomish County yesterday posted the list of 22 missing people and the list of 17 confirmed fatalities. Though the media and public are very interested in these numbers, we continue to emphasize the difficulty in establishing accurate numbers and the need to be conscious of that when discussing these.
  • Discussions and analysis continue about use of the utility road for emergency responders and whether it’s safe for use by a very limited group of people needing access into and out of Darrington.
  • DNR geologists are placing more instruments to monitor slide activity. And the lake level is now going down relatively rapidly, which is excellent.

The latest news is always available via Snohomish County’s Twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter. Other information is noted on the governor’s Oso mudslide resource page.

Our next update call will be today at 5:00PM.
Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105

Oso Mudslide Update #7 - March 31, 2014

Rescuers continue their very difficult work at the landslide to search for and recover victims.

Governor Inslee was in Arlington all day yesterday. He thanked volunteers at the Red Cross EOC, attended a briefing at the Arlington Incident Command Center, and met with Ken Murphy, the director of FEMA Region X. He also met with General Daugherty who escorted him on a flyover and visit to the site where the governor briefly thanked some of the rescue workers for their incredible efforts.

Discussions about next steps in regards to SR 530 will convene soon.  These decisions will have a significant impact on the economic prospects of the community, on the families of the victims, as well as general access to the area so there will be a priority put on an inclusive process for determining what happens.

Finally, the state Military Department’s EMD completed the request for major disaster declaration today which Governor Inslee signed and sent for President Obama’s approval. This disaster declaration will make a number of programs available to assist individuals, households, and businesses impacted by the Oso landslide.

The response team in Arlington has consolidated their daily press briefings to just one that will occur at 6pm daily. You can continue to get the latest news via Snohomish County’s Twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter. Other information is noted on the governor’s Oso mudslide resource page.

Our seventh update call will be today at 5:00PM.
Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105

The latest news is always available via Snohomish County’s Twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter. Other information is noted on the governor’s Oso mudslide resource page.

Oso Mudslide Update #6 – March 30, 2014

A search team from the Colorado National Guard arrived last night. With this team in place current Guardsmen and women who have been working very long hours under extremely difficult conditions will get some much needed rest.

A Type two Incident Management Team on the ground in Darrington has further established the Emergency Operations Center there, which has greatly improved the coordination and communication between Darrington, Arlington and the Snohomish County EOC.

The Military Department is continuing to work on options for getting a shuttle service running between Darrington and Arlington for getting people to work and school.

After rising temporarily last night during the rain, the water levels of the river have gone down again this morning, which is good news.

The official number of missing continues to change and establishing the count is difficult. Ensuring accurate numbers are shared with families and the community first, and then the press, continues to be a top priority.

Work continues on damage assessments and other information for the governor to request a Presidential Declaration for individual assistance.

The response team in Arlington has consolidated their daily press briefings to just one that will occur at 6pm daily. You can continue to get the latest news via Snohomish County’s Twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter. Other information is noted on the governor’s Oso mudslide resource page.

Our sixth update call will be today at 5:00PM.
Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105

 Oso Mudslide Update #5 – March 29, 2014

While crews continue their search and rescue efforts in extremely difficult conditions, here are some highlights of current activities.

An additional fatality search team will be arriving this evening to join teams already at the site. Establishing the official fatality count is much more complex than most people realize so the team is putting a top priority on ensuring accurate numbers - important both for the families and the public -before reporting to the press, so new numbers may not be available for a while.

Governor Inslee called for a moment of silence today at 10:37am to recognize the victims of the Oso mudslide.

Water levels in the lake have gone down another two feet, which is good news. Geologists from DNR also continue to be on-site at the slide to monitor the face of the hill.

The residents of Darrington have expressed that it would be helpful to have some kind of shuttle service to assist with getting people to work and school. The Military Department is looking into options.

Work continues on assessments and other information for the governor to request a Presidential Declaration for individual assistance.

You can continue to keep tabs on the latest news via Snohomish County’s twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter. The response teams are now consolidating their daily press briefings to just one that will occur at 6pm.

Our fifth update call will be today at 5:00PM.
Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105         

Oso Mudslide Update #4 – March 28, 2014

As search and recovery teams continue their difficult work, there are a few updates to note.

There are now 17 confirmed fatalities (this is the official number of fatalities ID’d by the county’s Medical Examiner’s office).The National Guard currently has 97 people on the ground. They are calling in an additional 50 people from the Washington National Guard as well as a search and fatality team from the Colorado National Guard and expect them to be in place Monday. This will provide some much-needed relief to the current Guardsmen and women who have been working very long hours in extremely difficult conditions, both mentally and physically.

The lake level has dropped by two feet and the river appears to be cutting a new path smoothly. This is good news and reduces concerns about a big break and the flooding that would occur as a result.Yesterday Governor Inslee requested an expansion of the federal Emergency Declaration and that has been approved. The expansion of the ED would help government agencies and non-profits recover some of the costs of emergency protective measures and emergency response. The earlier ED, received from the president on Monday, provided direct federal assistance in the form of disaster teams, specialized personnel and equipment. Work is underway by state and county officials to gather the information needed for the governor to request a Major Disaster Declaration from the president so individuals, households and businesses impacted by the disaster can receive some services and relief. It is expected this request will be made in the next few days.

Also, a reminder that several state agencies are directly engaged with helping residents and businesses. The Department of Licensing is at Darrington City Hall again today expedite free replacement of lost IDs. The Department of Revenue can assist anyone with questions about getting an extension on filing taxes or certain penalty fees waived. Our Department of Social & Health Services continues to provide cash and food assistance at its Mobile Community Services Office in Darrington. Other assistance available is noted on the governor’s Oso mudslide resource page.

You can continue to keep tabs on the latest news via Snohomish County’s twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter.

Our fourth update call is today at 5:00PM.
Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105

Oso Mudslide Update #3 - March 27, 2014

Search efforts in Oso continue. The list of those missing is now at 90 (down from 176 due to refining of lists) and 35 unknown (people who aren’t confirmed as “missing” but whose status is uncertain). 16 are confirmed dead. Crews are still out in full force and include search and rescue canine teams, National Guard crews, urban search and rescue, and others.

Impacts of the disaster are now becoming more evident. There are a couple dozen mental health professionals now in place to assist families and victims, and more mental health professionals are on the way. The Red Cross is continuing to coordinate housing and human services as well.

Mountain Loop Hwy opened yesterday afternoon and provides an alternative route into and out of Darrington, although WSDOT cautions that this is a gravel road, one lane in some places and is not appropriate for heavy traffic or traffic. But this should provide some relief to Darrington residents. WSDOT is also coordinating to begin clearing debris off SR 530 and determining viable options for rebuilding the roadway.

The state EMD is working on damage assessments. These assessments are necessary for us complete the governor’s requests for federal emergency declarations.

As usual, we encourage you to keep tabs on the latest news via Snohomish County’s twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter. Additionally we will have our third update call today at 5:00 at the same number as yesterday:

Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105

Oso Mudslide Update #2 - March 26, 2014

Search and rescue efforts continue in full force at the Oso mudslide. We learned that teams have recovered two additional bodies, bringing the death toll to 16. They also believe they have identified 8 other bodies in the field but have not yet recovered them. The number of those unaccounted for remained unchanged but they expect that number to go down as they refine the lists today.

Search and rescue efforts are underway with the help of people from all over the country and state.

More than 100 registered volunteers are also assisting with search efforts. We continue to stress that unregistered volunteers should not be on the slide site – we want to keep volunteers safe and accounted for so we can focus on searching for victims.
Tacoma sent an Urban Search & Rescue team comprised of fire and law enforcement personnel from Pierce County and fire personnel from King County and the City of Seattle.

Two National Guard units arrived yesterday to assist with search efforts, as did six dog teams from search-and-rescue organizations from around the state.

As a result of the federal Major Emergency Declaration request by Governor Inslee, additional federal teams are now on site including new incident Management Assistance Teams,  Incident Support Teams, technical program specialists and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Officers from the Department of Fish and Wildlife Police were some of the first responders to the scene and have worked tirelessly everyday toward the recovery and rescue efforts.

Support from a wide array of government organizations are also underway. We have folks helping assess the slide area from the state Dept of Natural Resources, providing various support services from the Washington State Patrol, and expediting services for victims from the Depts of Social & Health Services, Licensing, Commerce and Health Care Authority. This is a remarkable team effort and we appreciate everything everyone is doing to help.

The detour route at Mountain Loop Hwy is expected to open this afternoon. This is intended to provide some relief for Darrington residents and will not be appropriate for heavy traffic or freight. It is a partial gravel road, one-lane at some points with a speed limit of 25mph.

Community Transit is launching new emergency bus service to and from Darrington. Community Transit is also providing 7- and 15-passenger vans to groups of people needing vanpool services to school or work. Details about this new emergency route and vanpool option will be available at www.communitytransit.org.

A new crisis care hotline is open to assist those affected by the landslide and provide counseling and crisis intervention - 1.800.584.3578. People with tips about those who are missing can continue to call 425.388.5088 or email demcallcenter@snoco.org.

As usual, we encourage you to keep tabs on the latest news via Snohomish County’s twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter. Additionally we will have our second update call today at 5:00 at the same number as yesterday which is pasted below:

Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105

Oso Mudslide Update #1 - March 25, 2014

We’re going to work to send out a quick update each morning with the latest news on what’s happening on-the-ground in Snohomish County. This is just the high-level overview – we encourage you to keep tabs on the latest news via Snohomish County’s twitter and Facebook pages, or on our office twitter.

The fatality count is now at 14. Search crews are still out looking for remains. The number of those unaccounted for is 176.

Rescue and recovery efforts are in full force. There is now a small EOC up and running in Darrington. The Snohomish County team is getting support from Seattle, Pierce County, the Washington State Patrol, and National Guard units will arrive today to also provide assistance. The team is overwhelmed with offers of assistance and donations – it’s a good problem, but at this point they have enough volunteers.

Some good news:  WSDOT is making good progress on clearing Mountain Loop Road and expect it will be open in the coming days. This will be a limited access road but will provide an alternative route in to and out of Darrington.  Communications are back up in Darrington and they now have phone, internet and 911 service.  Great news from FEMA yesterday about additional support U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced yesterday the immediate availability of $1 million in emergency relief funds to help cover the costs of repairing SR 530.

Governor Inslee spoke with President Obama this morning who extended his thoughts and prayers to the people of Arlington, Oso and Darrington and reiterated his commitment to supporting state and local efforts.

Oso Mudslide Update - March 25, 2014

I’d like to invite you to a call today at 5:00 pm with key leaders including Governor Inslee and Executive Lovick to get an update on the Oso mudslide. We will be doing this call daily at 5:00 pm for at least the next few days to keep you up-to-date on the situation. The call will last about 30 minutes and call-in information is below. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Dial-in: 805-399-1000
Participant code: 176105

Aisling Kerins
Director of External Relations, Governor Inslee
(360) 701-2091