Community remembers Oso slide victims, survivors

By Ben Watanabe

The Herald

OSO — The power of remembering the people who died, those who survived and the lives changed forever was evident at a gathering Sunday at Oso.

Six years ago, an estimated 8 million cubic meters of earth slid off the forested hill and into the Steelhead Haven neighborhood. The landslide killed 43 people, ranging from 4 months old to their 90s.

About 50 people huddled around the memorial site. Several wore sweatshirts with “Oso Strong” or “Oso Memorial” on them.

Unlike last year, when the bronze sculpture of the residents’ mailboxes was unveiled, there was no grand reveal of a new feature. Arches and gateways for both sides of the slide zone were put on hold while the U.S. Forest Service shop where they’re being built is closed because of COVID-19, Dayn Brunner of Darrington said.

“Six years ago our lives were turned upside down,” he said to the crowd. “It doesn’t seem real.”

His sister, Summer Raffo, died in the disaster.

With state-ordered limits on crowds and for social distancing of 6 feet, people kept apart mostly. They’re part of a grief-stricken club that chooses to remember the people who died that day.

“We come here together for comfort, for love, and for security,” Brunner said.

Only Brunner and Oso Fire Department chaplain Joel Johnson spoke at the annual remembrance. Johnson and Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper read the names of each victim and rang a bell, then named the 11 survivors. They asked for a minute of silence, followed by a prayer from Johnson.

“We ask that you (God) would hold us together, that hope would endure,” he said.

Memorial coins, recently produced, are one way the organizers hope to raise funds for the other permanent structures, which they plan to install in phases as money comes in.