Mukilteo finds ways to help in Oso mudslide aftermath
The tragedy in Oso has reached south to Mukilteo, prompting first responders here to help bring solace to a community in pain.
Mukilteo firefighters and the police chaplain were called north to help in the aftermath of the massive mudslide on March 22 near Oso, a close-knit town of 180.
Mukilteo Assistant Fire Chief Brian McMahan and Mukilteo Police Chaplain Pat Ward were among the more than 300 first responders from Snohomish County to help those in Arlington, Darrington and Oso who lost everything under 40 feet of mud in a matter of seconds.
Firefighters from the Mukilteo Fire Department covered 911 calls in Arlington the day of the slide and have provided aid to search and rescue workers this week, McMahan said.
McMahan was called out to Arlington around 2 p.m. on March 22 to help, and has been back to Darrington nearly every day since disaster struck. He’s seen the devastation.
“It looks like everything was thrown up in to a blender and thrown out,” McMahan said. “It just looks like everything got mixed up with everything else.”
McMahan is serving as a public information officer. He had his first day off Sunday. Come Monday, he was back in Darrington.
He works closely with Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin to keep those affected by the slide in the know.
With limited phone and Internet, McMahan said sharing information has been a challenge. He posts updates to bulletin boards throughout town and holds daily meetings at the Darrington Community Center.
“It’s a very small community, so most everyone knows everyone. They’re all affected, and they’re trying to help out. Everybody wants to know what’s going on.
“Some people, all they can do is go to the boards and read the latest update. They’ve lost loved ones, and they want to know what to do.”
McMahan said Rankin will take a call from any Darrington number, no matter what time it is.
“Mayor Dan Rankin is a phenomenal man,” McMahan said. “For being thrown into something he’s never done before, he has done an amazing job. He has the whole town tugging at him, ‘Hey, I need this, I need that.’”
McMahan said when there aren’t any updates, he gives out hugs. He said he’s seen a lot of hugging going on all over town.
“It’s a pretty emotional thing to see,” he said. “They’re lost, and sometimes they just need a hug. I can’t walk about 10 feet without getting a hug.”
Chaplain Pat Ward is in Darrington this week serving as a grief counselor to those in need. She comforts them and prays with them wherever she finds them – at the community center, in the store, on the street.
Ward said Monday she prayed with a woman whose husband is missing.
“Every day is hard for her, every hour is difficult for her,” she said.
Many from Darrington are volunteering to help each other in any way they can. They ask what they can do. They cook meals, pass out donations and console their neighbors.
“It’s awesome to be there, to be a part of the community, and see how they’re all pulling together,” Ward said. “Everyone you come across wants to help in some way.”
McMahan agrees. He is amazed by the Darrington community.
“It’s a very tight-knit, resilient community,” McMahan said. “It’s one to be a model for America for how a community should come together. They were already close; this just brought them closer.
“It’s truly amazing to see what people can do when they come together.”
As of Tuesday, the death toll of the mudslide had risen to 27 victims, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. Officially, only 19 have been identified. Twenty-two are still missing.
The search for more victims continues through the one square mile of mud and debris.
Reader boards in Mukilteo show that Oso is not far from our minds here: “Oso you are in our thoughts and prayers” reads one off of SR-526. Another in front of the Mukilteo Presbyterian Church reads “Lifting our Oso neighbors in prayer.”
As the search continues, many in Mukilteo have been hosting donation drives and fundraisers as a way to help.
“It’s a terrible tragedy that I think reminds us to really appreciate the things we have and consider how quickly things can change,” Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “My heart goes out to all the families.”
“I’m really supportive of our firefighters doing what they can to help out in Darrington and Arlington,” Gregerson said. “I know someday we might need to call on their help, so it’s important to do what we can now for them.”
How you can help: Donate to the United Way Disaster Recovery Fund for Mudslide Relief at https://ssl.charityweb.net/uwsc/?custom8=LandSlide or to Red Cross Disaster Relief at https://www.redcross.org/donate/index.jsp?donateStep=2&itemId=prod10002.