Personal items buried by Oso mudslide handled with care

OSO — Hundreds of pieces of personal property have been recovered from the site of the March 22 mudslide near Oso.

Books. Photos. Rings.

Guns. Flags. Computers.

Cars. Cameras. Wills.

As many as 50 items are still being recovered each day as workers search and sift through debris, said Gary Haakenson, the Snohomish County manager overseeing the slide recovery efforts.

Officials have been working to clean and restore the items and return them to families in a careful and respectful way, Haakenson said.

Some of the recovered items belonged to the 43 people who were killed in the slide. One of the victims, Kris Regelbrugge, has not been found.

The items are stored in a reunification center at an undisclosed location.

Many of the recovered items were muddy but not seriously damaged, Haakenson said. The property is laid out on tables and shelving units. Families are given private time to look.

Local experts have helped, including those specially trained in finding owner information inside computers, or in restoring photos, Haakenson said.

“There’s just a whole lot of work that’s going on behind the scenes,” he said.

Searchers have kept a covered space set aside at the debris field where found property is taken and initially cleaned before being sent to the reunification center.

Each family who has lost loved ones or property has been invited to the center, Haakenson said.

“Some have chosen not to. It’s just too painful,” he said. “Some have said, ‘We’ll do it later.’”

Some have made multiple visits.

“It’s a very, very difficult process for families to go through, to walk in there and see some of the belongings of their loved ones,” Haakenson said.

Many items have been returned to their owners. Some folks don’t want the property back, Haakenson said. Other families have expressed interest in donating mementos to a memorial.

Auto insurance companies have been involved because of recovered vehicles.

There are still questions left to sort out, such as what happens to property that is not claimed.

Sensitive items, such as tax records, firearms and wills, are being kept secure by the county sheriff’s office.

Work also continues to restore private land that was damaged or otherwise affected by rescue and recovery efforts, particularly lots along Highway 530, Haakenson said.

The active search for human remains at the site ended in late April.

Some 200,000 cubic yards of dirt and debris are still being sifted. In some areas, the mud was 25 feet deep.

The sheriff’s office still has been sending search-and-rescue crews back into the debris in recent months in hopes of bringing the last victim home.

Crews with heavy equipment are expected to be working 10-hour days in the slide area through September, primarily for searching and removing debris.

The damaged highway is open to two-way traffic, with “substantial completion” of permanent repairs anticipated before the rainy season begins in the fall.

Officials have repeatedly asked the public to be respectful while driving past the site, to stay in their cars, to not steal anything, and to not wander around in an area considered by many to be hallowed ground.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Jordan Evers distributes coffee Sunday afternoon during the annual community meal at Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett on November 19, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Firefighters serve Thanksgiving meals at Carl Gipson center

The next two feasts at the senior center in Everett will be Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 3.

Puffy-coated robbery suspect arrested on Whidbey

The suspect apparently wore the same outfit in 2 robberies at the same place in less than 2 weeks.

Man assaulted with hammer in Everett

His girlfriend had accused him of cheating on her and called another man over to confront him.

Injection sites still banned — County Council doesn’t budge

At a public hearing, more than 15 people said they are opposed to sanctioned areas for using heroin.

Dog shot at Mountlake Terrace house during burglary

A suspect was arrested Friday in Everett for investigation of burglary and first-degree animal cruelty.

1 arrested after SWAT team moves in on Marysville house

The incident was connected to an earlier robbery.

Agencies launch coordinated response to an opioid ‘emergency’

Health workers, law enforcement agencies and emergency managers are responding as they might to a disaster.

District takes steps to secure school campuses

Safety measures have been enhanced at Hawthorne and Silver Firs elementary schools in Everett.

Most Read