“I hadn’t even heard about the disaster when I got the call,” said Britt Bodin, 27 of Sedro-Woolley, Washington. “I didn’t get off work until past midnight, but I was out the door by 5:00 a.m. the next morning.”
Bodin is among one of more than 500 Red Cross volunteers in Washington State that deployed to assist in the massive landslide disaster that struck the Stillaguamish Valley on March 22, 2014. When a giant hillside slid away in a torrent of mud, trees and debris, burying Highway 530, few could imagine the scale of the devastation.
The Red Cross immediately mobilized a full-scale response and Bodin was deployed for four weeks. Like so many, he can attest that the Washington landslide disaster was as deadly as it was unusual. The mud was thick, deep and nearly impossible for rescue and search teams to navigate. As rescue crews got to work in the frantic search for survivors, they faced a minefield of potential hazards: downed power lines, potentially toxic mud and leaking propane and gas tanks. When rain fell, operations slowed and frustrations mounted.
Throughout the landslide emergency operation, the Red Cross provided assistance to meet immediate needs of survivors and support first responders, who hailed from across the state and country.
The early days were hectic Bodin recalled: “We were constantly awash with new information, new tasks, and people in need of help one kind or another.” Ultimately, the communities of Arlington, Oso, and Darrington, Washington lost 43 residents. The landslide claimed more lives than any other disaster in the country this year.
Bodin met many of the local residents, who no longer recognized the valley they had called home. “I vividly recall one such family, such a nice family,” he said, “They had narrowly escaped with their lives, mother, father and daughters all safe, but they lost everything.”
Many other residents and families faced the same uncertainty and concerns: Where would they live? How could they rebuild their homes and get back on their feet? What about the medical bills? What if they needed emotional support?
In collaboration with partners, the Red Cross is developing personal recovery plans for each and every family to help surmount the myriad of challenges ahead.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint and we continue to help fill unmet needs,” said Chuck Morrison, executive director, Northwest Region. Now residents are moving toward long-term recovery to reclaim their lives and future. Red Cross caseworkers and partners are by their side.
“We work with individuals to create their personal recovery plans and the impacted communities so that they are more resilient and prepared for future emergencies.”