Oso, Washington — They gathered to remember their friends, their families, and the neighborhood that was once here.
Five years ago, a hillside gave way above the Steelhead Haven neighborhood, killing 43, injuring more and changing the lives of thousands. It was the deadliest single landslide in U.S. history.
The rescue and recovery efforts took weeks. Darrington Fire Chief Dennis Fenstermaker said the slide was the most complex emergency response of his 45-year career, and he praised community members who joined first responders to search for survivors and victims.
“Individuals, organizations, communities, and total strangers came together to care and comfort and get the best possible outcomes in a terrible situation,” Fenstermaker said.
He was among community members who gathered at the site Friday for a remembrance ceremony, along with state officials including Gov. Jay Inslee. Many of them stood arm in arm while the names of the victims were read aloud. A member of the Snohomish County Fire District Honor Guard played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. At 10:37 a.m., people bowed for a moment of silence, marking the time the landslide struck. Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish tribe, sang a song while playing a ceremonial drum.
Dayn Brunner helped lead Friday’s ceremonies. His sister, Summer Raffo, was driving through the area when the landslide happened. She was killed.
“We haven’t had this many people here since the first year, year one, and for everybody to come back out and support us and be here, it’s just awesome,” Brunner said. “It doesn’t surprise me, but I’m glad to see this many people here.”
The stretch of Highway 530 between Darrington and Arlington has been renamed "The Oso Slide Memorial Highway," and there's now a sculpture of mailboxes at the site. They call back to the mailboxes that originally stood at the entrance to the Steelhead Haven neighborhood.
There are plans for a permanent memorial, as well. More information is available at slidememorial.com.