Oso mudslide volunteers and responders rekindle friendships at reunion

DARRINGTON — They struck up friendships in the most trying of circumstances.

They probed the swampy wasteland looking for signs of life and later bodies.

Their mission was physically demanding and emotionally exhausting.

They cut, cooked, dug, lifted, sifted and sometimes prayed.

Many were locals working alongside emergency response experts from well outside the Stillaguamish Valley. Some were in Oso for days, others for weeks.

In fleeting shifts, in kitchens and command centers, thigh deep in mud and at the controls of big machinery, they forged bonds.

And then they were gone.

With so many people rotating through, there often was a sense of incompletion.

“It felt like a family out there,” said Rhonda Cook, a Darrington woman who spent months helping in rescue and recovery efforts. “We felt that we were getting separated. Everyone wasn’t able to stay and see it to the end.”

Four months after the March 2014 disaster, the last of the 43 Oso mudslide victims was found. By then, the formal search had been suspended, but a small group of professionals and volunteers kept looking.

On Friday night and Saturday, hundreds of volunteers and first responders will have the chance to reconnect over meals and music at the Darrington Rodeo Grounds. The family-friendly event is being called the United-By-Mud reunion. A committee has been working behind the scenes, planning it for months.

“There were a lot of people we talked to who said, ‘When this is all over and done with, we are going to have a beer,” Cook said. “This will be a chance to have that beer.”

The event is geared toward those who contributed to the recovery and their families. More than 400 people have registered, including 50 National Guardsmen. Many will be coming from outside Snohomish County, some from out of state.

Cook is trying to reach out to those who might not be aware of the reunion to let them know they can register. To learn more about the event and registration, go to www.unitedbymud.com.

“I’m excited to have conversations we weren’t able to have because we were too busy,” Cook said. “Reconnecting is very important.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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