Slow, deliberate steps forward

Crisis reveals judgment. And few crises are as merciless and enduring as the Oso landslide.

The stories are almost too much to bear. As The Herald’s Gale Fiege writes, last week Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert and Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin toured the devastation. A body was recovered, and after a few minutes the man they were chatting with quietly excused himself.

“I believe they have found my brother,” he said.

On Friday, volunteer firefighter Seth Jefferds stood with fellow firefighters in front of the Oso fire station on Highway 530. “I can’t tell you how tough it’s been and how tough it’s going to be.” Jefferds said. Jefferds’ wife, Christina, 45, and their granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, 4, were killed in the slide.

Generosity flows. Coastal Community Bank will forgive the home loans of those affected. Washington State University will waive tuition for the 2014-15 academic year for students caught in the fallout. The University of Washington will work with students though its financial aid office.

What of the Hampton sawmill, Darrington’s largest employer? According to Hampton CEO Steve Zika, the closure of Highway 530 will cost the company $500,000 a month.

“There’s a chance that if lumber prices keep dropping that we could take some downtime,” Zika told The Herald. “We’re hoping to avoid that.”

The sawmill’s fate was flagged by Gov. Jay Inslee in his letter to President Barack Obama, asking for federal assistance. On Wednesday, Obama declared Oso a major disaster, which frees up the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover 75 percent of the costs and damages. That may not suffice for a county freighted with overtime for emergency workers and sheriff’s deputies. And there’s the matter of hauling 200,000 cubic yards of debris just to clear the road.

Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate plan to survey the scene and meet with families and first responders. They’ll need to be diplomatic, with a population repelled by showboats, particularly politicians (most have avoided the klieg lights. Snohomish County Executive John Lovick works quietly behind the scenes, comforting families.) Most residents reflect the sensibility of the late Rep. Lloyd Meeds of Monroe, who kept on his desk a stamp with a common profanity that roughly means “nonsense.” The people of Oso and Darrington see through grandstanders, stamp in hand.

Beware the predators, the law firms advertising and trolling for clients. This may be a man-made disaster, but reducing blame to lax zoning, logging practices or climate-related March rains is pure speculation.

For now, we’re reminded of the mortar that cements community — the families, the volunteers, the emergency workers. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, in the end we arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.

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