The end of the large-scale recovery operation at the site of the Oso mudslide means that a road around the slide zone, once reserved for emergency vehicles, will be open for traffic.
State transportation officials opened the new detour, a primitive gravel road on Seattle City Light property, Monday night for local traffic.
Officials said making the access road available to local residents was one of their top priorities. They hope to open at least one lane of state Route 530 by this fall.
The gravel road will reconnect Oso with the town of Darrington, which was cut off by the slide. Residents had to use a long detour to access the Interstate 5 corridor.
In Oso, the news of the scaled-down search operations was greeted with mixed emotions.
The Rhodes River Ranch is just about the only business open in town. Several of the ranch’s employees live in Darrington, and they had been forced to drive two hours each way to get to work.
Jean Rhodes, the ranch’s owner, said she’s not surprised the recovery operation is winding down, but she hopes, for the sake of the families, that it doesn’t end entirely.
"As long as they allow them to keep looking, because I’m pretty sure the locals here won’t give up. They were the first ones out there and they just dove into that mud," Rhodes said.
About 30 people will continue to search for the last two victims believed to be still missing in the slide: Steven Hadaway, who was installing a satellite dish in the area when the slide hit, and Kris Regelbrugge, an Oso resident whose husband was also killed in the slide.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said if any clues are found, more searchers can easily be brought in.
At the height of the effort, county officials said, a thousand people were involved in searching for the remains of the mudslide victims.