The scope of the Oso mudslide in Snohomish County is difficult to fathom. Soaked by heavy rainfall, a massive shard of mountain slipped down and tore through the small community on a sleepy Saturday morning, and then settled in and suffocated it.
The debris field is 300 acres, more than three times the size of Manito Park.
As of Wednesday, the death toll stood at 29, with 18 people still missing. Three of the confirmed victims were former Spokane residents. For comparison purposes, the Mount St. Helens volcano killed 57 people, and the tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., in 2013 killed 24.
Rescue efforts at Oso were stymied by the mounds of muck and mire, as high as 40 feet in some spots. The Steelhead Drive neighborhood is somewhere beneath it. Some of the missing people may never be found.
A dozen days after the March 22 disaster, the expectation of saving lives is gone. Rescue has turned into recovery.
It’s a grim task of carefully picking through the debris, knowing that bodies or cherished mementos are amid the massive pile. Volunteers are told to limit their stay, because of the dispiriting nature of the scene. The recovery effort will need a steady stream of reinforcements.
“This is going to be a really long-term recovery,” Jennifer Ramieh, a Red Cross development officer, told NBC News. She noted that Red Cross workers are still in Moore, which was struck last May.
While assistance is needed, there is no rush.
Bottled water, canned food, toiletries, diapers, baby bottles, clothing, animal feed and other aid is piling up in nearby Darrington, according to the Everett Daily Herald. Plenty of volunteers are on hand to handle the donations, which are coming in from all over the United States and Canada.
The real need will occur weeks from now, when the headlines recede and the current volunteers return to their lives. Cash and gift cards are the best long-term donations. Gas cards are also prized, because a wide swath of Highway 530 was wiped out, forcing commuters to drive long distances out of their way to reach their jobs.
If you want to help, beware of unfamiliar solicitors, because they may be taking advantage of the tragedy to run scams. Send donations to well-known charities, such as American Red Cross, the Salvation Army Disaster Relief Fund and the United Way of Snohomish County. Local credit unions, such as STCU, are collecting donations for the Red Cross through next Wednesday. Call (800) 858-3750.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed a “major disaster” declaration, which frees up direct federal aid for individuals affected by the mudslide. But it won’t cover every need.
So while keeping the families of victims in your thoughts and prayers, remember their needs are not fleeting. Recovery is a distant destination.