Oso: The Few Who Lived May Never Fully Recover

KUOW's Liz Jones interviews Gail and Ron Thompson at the Oso mudslide. It was the first time the couple had been at the site since the slide struck in March 2014.
Credit KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Six months after the deadliest landslide in U.S. history, the community of Oso, Wash., is still recovering.

Forty-three people were killed when heavy rains triggered a huge section of hillside above the Steelhead Haven neighborhood to give way, sweeping away dozens of homes, covering the highway, and blocking the Stillaguamish River.

While the physical work of clearing the debris is largely finished, the emotional healing has only just begun.

KUOW 94.9 and KCTS 9 collaborated to produce this series of profiles of people most affected by the landslide  —  a woman rescued from the mud, a couple who lost their home, a first responder struggling with post-traumatic stress, and leaders, municipal and spiritual, still working tirelessly for their community.

See our full story on Medium. 

See videos at KCTS or by clicking on the profiles below.

Contributors: Carolyn Adolph, Ashley Ahearn, Katie Campbell, Posey Gruener, Aileen Imperial, Stacey Jenkins, Liz Jones, Patricia Murphy and Isolde Raftery. 

Editors: Jim Gates and Carol Smith.

Oso: The Few Who Lived May Never Fully Recover

Oct 22, 2014
Gail and Ron Thompson return to the site of the devastating mudslide for the first time since it took out their home and killed many of their neighbors.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

They found the bodies by watching the birds.

Eighteen feet deep, buried beneath heavy gray clay the color of northern Washington skies.

It took five months, but they found them all – forty-three victims of the country’s deadliest landslide in the last three decades. When the rescuers found the last body, they raised the flag to full mast at the Oso fire station down the road. Kris Regelbrugge was her name: forty-four, mother to five grown children, sun tattoo on her big toe.

After Oso, Being Mayor Is Now A Full-Time Job

Sep 21, 2014
Return to Oso
KCTS Photo/Aileen Imperial

Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin grew up in this small town, like his father and his father before him. Though he moved away when he was younger, Rankin felt he had to move back. The town, he says, is something you can't get out of your soul.

In Oso, We Pulled Everybody Out Of The Mud

Sep 21, 2014
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KCTS Photo/Stacey Jenkins

Bob DeYoung helped recover bodies of friends and neighbors killed in the Oso slide. His wife Julie took care of people who survived. Today they're figuring out how to take care of their own needs.

After Oso, Reborn From Water And Mud

Sep 21, 2014
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KCTS Photo/Stacey Jenkins

Robin Youngblood cherished the nature around her home in Oso’s Steelhead Haven. When the landslide struck, she and a visiting friend were talking about a deer they had just seen. After the disaster, she left the Oso area. But something called her back. Now she lives a stone’s throw from state Route 530, a few miles east of the slide.

We Are All To Blame For The Oso Slide

Sep 21, 2014
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KCTS Photo/Katie Campbell

As a geomorphologist, Dan Miller has extensively studied the land formations and landslide history of the Stillaguamish Valley and Steelhead Haven. Miller and other scientists knew it to be a hazardous place, long before the devastating slide occurred. 

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KCTS Photo/Aileen Imperial

Gary Ray was the pastor at the Oso chapel in March. While doing work for the church on the morning of Saturday, March 22,  he received a call from another pastor in Darrington. There had been a massive landslide and he should come back, the pastor said. After the slide, Ray provided spiritual and emotional support for a community that prided itself on its strong sense of independence.

We're Staying In Oso, But Every Day We Say Goodbye

Sep 21, 2014
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KCTS Photo/Aileen Imperial

Ron Thompson was known as the mayor of Steelhead Drive. He and his wife Gail Thompson lost their home and many neighbors in the Oso landslide. But they’ve decided to stay in Oso, and start over in a new home just four miles from the old one. They find hope in rebuilding their community while striving to find meaning in the disaster.