The somber anniversary of the Snohomish County landslide was commemorated Wednesday, as the Legislature awarded the Medal of Valor to the communities that endured the disaster that killed 43.
OLYMPIA — The Oso landslide’s somber anniversary struck a chord Wednesday in the heart of the state Capitol, where the Legislature awarded the Medal of Valor to the communities that endured the disaster that killed 43.
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Click the photo above to see The Seattle Times’ complete coverage of the Oso landslide, including investigative stories, profiles of the victims, interactive maps and a photo gallery.
Men from four communities stood before the governor, the state Supreme Court and a joint session of the House and Senate to receive the medals. Looking on from the upstairs galleries were more people from the Arlington, Darrington, Oso and Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe communities.
“While we strive to protect our mother Earth, so does she shelter us in so many ways from harm,” Kevin Lenon, vice chairman of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, told those gathered in the state House chamber. “But there are times when a simple shifting of her garment may catch us in her movements, and we are harmed.”
It was a harm whose description barely renders the whole horror — the slide, a half-mile wide, engulfing dozens of homes and Highway 530. Leaving debris piles up to 70 feet deep, so powerful was the slide that it altered the course of the Stillaguamish River’s North Fork.
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Those collecting the awards — and many others — worked to save anyone they could from the nation’s worst landslide and help the communities rebuild afterward.
Fourteen-year-old Brantly Stupey, who accepted the award on behalf of Arlington, along with other Post Middle School students helped the Red Cross collect food and water.
“It’s humbling, it’s crazy,” Stupey, whose green-tinted braces complemented the blue shirt he wore under his gray suit, said after the ceremony. “It kind of brings back the memories of what happened last year.”
In the slide’s aftermath, Quinn Nations, a logger who accepted the medal on behalf of Darrington, “jumped in and helped out the best I could” by helping to rescue survivors on a bridge fashioned from a tin roof.
“Look at what the American people can do if you just untie their hands,” Nations told those gathered, adding after applause: “Chew on that one for a little bit.”
Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper accepted the medal for his community, in part by reminding those gathered that the recovery isn’t yet over.
“We still have community members that are struggling,” Harper told the crowd, adding later: “It’s a long road ahead of us.”
The medal, one of Washington state’s highest honors, is awarded to those who have set aside personal risk to save lives. To award them in this instance, lawmakers this year passed — and the governor signed — a bill allowing the Medal of Valor to be given to a community rather than just a single recipient.
That scale seemed to sum up the sweep of honor necessary for the Oso landslide, the deadliest in U.S. history.
“I hope you have about 2,000 more of them,” Nations, the logger from Darrington, told those gathered, “because there’s a lot of people here that deserve them.”