Nation rallies to support Oso

Photo courtesy of Jonah Stinson. An American flag recovered from the wreckage after the Oso Mudslide in March.
Photo courtesy of Jonah Stinson. An American flag recovered from the wreckage after the Oso Mudslide in March.

By: Greg Lane

On April 22, a month after the Oso Mudslide, President Obama visited the rural town to assure the victims of the federal government’s support in their recovery.

As of 7:30 a.m., on the day of Obama’s visit, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office had confirmed 41 deaths in their report. Known as the “Oso Mudslide,” the State Route 530 slide that occurred March 22 has put Snohomish County into a state of emergency.

Jonah Stinson, the Emergency Preparations Manager for Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, and Western Washington University said he was in Oso from March 29 to April 9.

During his time volunteering, Stinson said he helped set up a community recovery center in Darrington, a nearby town where shelters were erected for the displaced people of Oso. Stinson said much of his work involved coordinating transportation, access to medical care, solid waste disposal, and managing donations.

He said the slide and following relief for Oso was a long-lasting event and “is probably the biggest thing to happen in Washington since the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption of 1980.”

With many homes and lives destroyed, Gov. Jay Inslee directed all state agency facilities to lower Washington and United States flags to half-staff in memory of those lost in the SR 530 Slide. Flags were lowered the morning of April 15 and remained so until April 22, one month after the disaster.

Relief and rescue to the people of Oso began with first-responders arriving on-scene the day of the incident. Since then, volunteers and charity organizations from Washington and around the country have rallied to help Oso’s victims and their families.

Properly allocating donations was a large ordeal Stinson said, and well-intended but unnecessary donations made for what he called “a tricky situation.”

“Someone had donated 2,000 pairs of shoes when the town only has about 1,300 people,” He said, adding that just organizing excess goods made for “warehouses full of stuff.”

Physical goods such as clothing and food can often be difficult to manage as everything must be cleaned, usable, and transported, all of which takes time and money, Stinson said.

Stinson said there have been misconceptions about donating to large charities working at Oso. He said people need to know what it means to donate to organizations such as the American Red Cross and United Way. These groups do good work, said Stinson, but by donating to these organizations he said it is important to understand that not all of the donation money they receive goes to the Oso relief effort; much of it will go to the organizations themselves to help with disasters in the future.

Stinson said support and help to the displaced people of Oso has been strong, with help coming from “FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], elite search-and-rescue task forces, religious organizations such as United Methodist and the Adventist Group, and Food Banks.”

Funding many charitable organizations is the Washington State Combined Fund Drive (CFD). CFD is a state program which distributes state employee donations, such as the contributions of Whatcom’s staff, to charity organizations. The Program Manager for CFD, Philip Kerrigan, said their Mudslide Relief Campaign has received $66,000 in donations.

Kerrigan said it is “by far the most individually successful campaign” for the CFD. He said the campaign has worked with charities such as the American Red Cross, the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue Unit, and the Soup Ladies, an organization which provides fresh meals to first responders in times of emergency.

Cynthia Hoskins, administrative assistant to Whatcom’s Vice President of Administrative Services Nate Langstraat, is Whatcom’s CFD campaign manager. Hoskins said she helps set up CFD events at Whatcom which usually raises money for student scholarships or local charities. With disasters such as the SR 530 Slide however, Hoskins said help has come from not only charities but from Whatcom as well.

“Employees feel safe knowing [what charities] they are contributing to,” said Hoskins. “CFD provides an avenue for people to know where their money is going. That’s very important for the CFD.”

Kerrigan said another service the CFD and its donors funded is psychological support for the many families who have lost loved ones and property to the mudslide.

Hoskins said usual activities of the CFD at Whatcom include the March 14 Pi Day, which raises money for math scholarships through a bake sale. She said September is also a busy month where they do a lot to fund scholarships for Whatcom students.

Stinson said the best way to donate to the mudslide victims is with monetary donations through local banks and centers. The easiest and most efficient method to help victims is by donating through the county’s website at By directly funding Snohomish County, Stinson said donations can be spent for things the people of Oso need, which can change daily.

Being the Emergency Preparedness Manager and studied in landslides and geology, Stinson said “The northwest is prone for landslides; they aren’t unique to [Oso].”

“This was a relatively small and isolated event and it required an extensive amount of resources,” Stinson said. “It should be a reminder to people to be prepared…it’s a reminder that we need to be aware of our surroundings as we develop.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *