Recovery effort slowly moving forward

DARRINGTON — The debris field is vast.

Makeshift paths of lumber and plywood crisscross the mounds of dirt and mud. Logs are stacked in piles bigger than sport utility vehicles. Some trees still stand, stripped bare from the slide, or from the season. It’s hard to tell.

On Thursday afternoon, Snohomish County sheriff’s Lt. Kathi Lang drove the service road south of the Oso mudslide debris field to attend a community meeting in Darrington.

The route was built along an old power-line service road, a single-lane gravel path similar to those that carry hikers to trails off the Mountain Loop Highway.

The road has several turnouts where workers directed traffic. It’s a dangerous place where hard hats are required.

At one turnout, a hard hat was set on cases of water and sports drinks. Paramedics — local and federal — were stationed in spots, ambulances ready.

In the field, a stray safety vest hung on a pole sticking out of the ground.

A heap of materials contained twisted metal, barely recognizable as pieces of cars.

Frogs could be heard croaking in the flood water.

So much of this didn’t exist three weeks ago.

Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton pointed to the Frontier cable that was snaked along the service road to re-establish phone and Internet service in Darrington.

“It was just this tangible meaning of we’re moving forward,” she said.

The debris field is a construction site on hallowed ground. At another turnout, the trees open up to a view of the scar of the landslide and the valley of dirt mounds and workers and trackhoes below.

People get quiet here.

***

Thank you signs for searchers are posted along both sides of Highway 530 around the slide zone.

As Lang pulled into Darrington on Thursday, she stopped at the police station to check on the deputies. The sheriff’s office has doubled the number of deputies assigned in Darrington since the slide, said Lang, who leads the north precinct.

In the police station garage, supplies for workers were stacked next to firetrucks. A pile of sweatpants sat on a cooler. A black garbage bag held boots, sizes 11 and 11.5. Two sheriff’s office off-road bikes were splattered with mud.

Roughly 70 people attended the meeting at the Darrington Community Center. There have been many such gatherings since the slide.

The meeting started with a prayer, with thanks given for “gifts of time, skills, donations, prayer and, above all, love.”

The woman leading the prayer promised those in Darrington a “life left to come.”

“Love endures, God endures and we will endure,” she said.

The state will consider allowing public travel on the service road, officials said Thursday. For now, it’s only open to responders, and some in the community who have been granted special “passports.” The route can save hours.

Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin on Thursday pleaded with the crowd not to abuse the passport system.

A baby cooed. In the back row of the bleachers, an older man with a beard leaned in to share a joke about the upcoming visit from President Barack Obama: “Save your questions for the 22nd, that’s when the big guy will be here.”

Rankin rescheduled next week’s Darrington community meeting to 7 p.m. April 17 so folks can attend a state meeting Monday about the Highway 530 closure. People in Arlington and Darrington may start seeing Secret Service agents around as the president’s visit approaches, Rankin said.

Rankin asked people to take note of some of the positive things that have been happening during a dark time — like a yield of fresh mushrooms from the past weekend.

“It’s not the big things,” Rankin said. “It’s the little things that are going to hold us together as a community.”

Rankin then read aloud the names of those whose bodies had been recovered in the past few days.

People clasped their hands in front of them and bowed their heads in prayer.

A moment of silence followed.

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

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