September 22, 2014 marks six months since a rain-soaked hillside suddenly collapsed and buried a rural community near Oso, Washington. The torrent of mud and debris claimed 43 lives and 49 homes and left grief, devastation and uncertainty for scores of families in its wake.
Recovery from one of the largest landslide disasters in U.S. history is a considerable task and one that takes time. It is also a process that wove together a diverse network of survivors, neighbors, local leaders, first responders and aid organizations, including the Red Cross. “It’s amazing to see the synergy that happens,” said Bob Dolhanyk, Red Cross Long Term Recovery Manager for the Northwest Washington Region. Together, these individuals represent the Combined Long-Term Recovery Group (CLTRG), which seeks to help neighbors get back on their feet and communities to heal.
Over the last months, the CLTRG collaborated closely with Red Cross-supported disaster caseworkers. “The initial priority was to help people find long-term, secure housing and identify other recovery services available,” said Dolhanyk. He notes that as time went by, needs evolved. “And we came together to solve them, whatever those needs might be, and often in creative ways.”
To help a family move into their new home, the CLTRG helped coordinate a painting party to lighten the load of renovation work. With a steer from the CLTRG, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington tackled back-to-school anxiety, placing mental health workers in schools to give students the emotional support they needed at a difficult time. A number of families prepared to purchase a new home, but needed help. The CLTRG sat down to cobble the funds together for the down payment.
Many families are now moving onto the next phase of their lives. Social events have been identified as an important catalyst for healing for neighbors who have been separated by the tragedy. Coming back together proved to be an invaluable emotional boost. “It happens gradually, but it happens,” said Dolhanyk. “It’s through mutual support, community meetings, salmon bakes, fundraisers and painting parties. It’s not back to normal, but it’s moving forward to the “new normal.”