Images of Oso

Gary Haakenson exhibit in Edmonds for fourth anniversary of landslide
By Brian Soergel | Mar 22, 2018
Courtesy of: Gary Haakenson Gary Haakenson’s photos of the aftermath of the Oso landslide can be seen at an exhibit in Edmonds.

On March 22, 2014, Deputy County Executive Gary Haakenson took a phone call from staff members alerting him to a landslide on Highway 530. They said they’d provide updates.

“It didn’t really seem like a surprise to me,” Edmonds’ former mayor said Monday over the phone from his home in Arizona, where he spends about half the year.

“It had been raining for weeks on end, so a slide didn’t seem too out of the ordinary to me. It was also a state highway, so I wasn’t sure what Snohomish County’s involvement would be. Of course, within 15 minutes, all heck broke loose, and it was more than just a slide on the highway. Frankly, it became my job for about the next six months, until I retired.”

The landslide on a hill just east of Oso city limits unleashed about 270 million cubic feet of mud on the unsuspecting Stillaguamish River community below it. It took 43 lives and destroyed 38 homes – the worst landslide in U.S. history.

During his time on scene, Haakenson – an Edmonds City Council member from 1996 to 1999 and mayor from 2000 to 2010 who now is campaign co-chair for the planned Edmonds Waterfront Center – took plenty of photos while being considerate of the slide’s devastating consequences.

Several of those photos are on display beginning Thursday, March 22 – exactly four years after the landslide – at Faith Community Church in Edmonds.

The photos, in sequence, are under the headings “Initial Devastation,” “Resulting Damage,” “Tedious Recovery” and “Beginning Restoration,” said Phil Assink, the church’s lead pastor.

The exhibit came about after Assink saw a post on Haakenson’s blog, “Random Stuff,” that he posted last year on the slide’s three-year anniversary.

“What he wrote provides a brief reflection on what it was like,” Assink said. “However, the pictures taken over the course of the weeks speak clearly to the consequences of the slide and the tireless efforts of the recovery team.”

During the slide’s aftermath, Haakenson was in charge of the recovery of slide victims and assisting family members who lost loved ones.

“It was a very meticulous process, sifting through dirt, almost by hand in some places,” Haakenson said. “My job was to meet with family members on a regular basis. We had many group meetings at the Oso fire station. The main focus was on food, shelter and housing. Basically, for these folks it was starting over again. It wasn’t easy, because they’d lost loved ones; there were lots of questions.”

In addition, Haakenson joined rural fire Chief Travis Hots in providing media updates. There was much misinformation, which typically occurs after a major disaster. And there was confusion about the number of deaths, as the world’s media demanded quick answers.

“Sometimes all we could find to identify folks were body parts,” Haakenson said. “The media wanted to know who the folks were. But we wouldn’t give out names until we received identification from the Medical Examiner’s Office and had notified family members.”

Haakenson took his photos using a Canon Rebel camera with, he said, a pretty good zoom lens. Nowadays, he often uses the camera on his smartphone, as quality has increased tremendously the last few years.

When not living and taking pictures in Arizona, Haakenson posts pictures from around Puget Sound, where he and wife Dolly live in a beach house at Point No Point on the Kitsap Peninsula.

But Haakenson said he will always remember the photos he took after the Oso landslide, ones that took him three years to post on his blog.

“I thought about doing some commentary for the exhibit at Faith Community Church,” he said, “but you look at the photos and they’re pretty self-explanatory.”

Gary Haakenson: Oso Anniversary Exhibit

Where: Faith Community Church, 10220 238th St. SW, Edmonds
When: Through May. Gallery open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every Sunday. Monday through Thursday by appointment
Admission: Free
Information: 206-542-8883
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