Monday, March 31, 2014

The oso landslide; local perspective

My farm is downriver from the Oso slide; other than the evacuation notice and the helicopter and rescue traffic, it hasn't had much impact on the physical farm operations, but it has made a difference in the community here.  So I'm going to talk about that a bit.

Everyone interested has seen all of the photos and the footage of the rescuers; but what hasn't gotten much press is that the local community has a fair bit of anger about how the rescue is being handled.

The basic issue is that everyone wants to fix this.  Everyone would like to make it better, and everyone would feel better about doing something -- anything -- vs just watching.  This is particularly true of the residents in and around the slide, and up and down the valley.

When you live in a rural area in the mountains, like I do, you're used to doing for yourself.  You own a chainsaw to clear fallen trees.  You own a generator because the power is erratic; you get used to assessing the state of the river, and the danger of flood, and you own a good set of boots and raingear.

If you're like me, you're pretty used to mud, even a lot of mud.  And if you're like me, you've even had formal rescue training; I'm a swiftwater rescue technician II, which means that i've completed the first course and the second one, too, and I've practiced those skills both in courses and in real life.  I've pulled my share of bodies out of the river.

So you have a community, a region, of people who would like nothing better than to jump right in, and volunteers who are showing up to work are being turned away.  Sure, there are some locals working on this, but the honest truth is that I think sometimes that they would have been better off to bring 500 shovels to the roadblock and just handed one out to everyone who showed up.  Even if it didn't really make much difference to the rescue effort -- it's pretty clear that anyone not rescued saturday is dead, and was dead minutes after the earth starting moving - it would have allowed the community some sense of having taken direct action.

Take a look at this story in the local paper -- summary?  Some guy with his dog drove 90 minutes down and was walking around on the site.  I have no idea if he was doing any good, but he wasn't being paid by anyone, and maybe be could have found someone.  Maybe he'd get himself killed, too.   But what's important about that story isn't the guy -- look at the community reaction:

"
Unauthorized photos? Really? Are you now the thought police? And the crime here is???? And it is more important to chase down/spend time and resources on this guy?
Looks like some blue-gun-thugism to me. "

Hey Francis... I wonder how many more people you could find if you spent as much energy on trying to make sure you're not losing photo opportunities. Hardly seems like you could afford to lose any help since no one seems to be getting anywhere. Way to go! Protecting & serving those photos is of course thee most important thing. He denied he was with Whatcom County Search & Rescue, so how was he being an imposter of anything? How dare you waste our tax dollars "investigating/railroading" a public citizen who was trying to help"

There are more comments -- you can read them yourself at the link above, but this is typical.  

It's made worse by the fact that the first responders are saying "we're exausted after a week or 24 hour a day work and need time off " -- the perception is that there's hundreds of people who want to help and they're being barred from it.  

the conditions there aren't good, and the job of finding the last 30 bodies is grim.  But the closure for the community, and for the individuals, for the living, is part of this, too. 

I wish that the authorities would relax and allow the community to support them directly, and in a way that the community would feel better, too.  Food drives and sending $10 in to some cell phone text number isn't what is needed here.  

What I think that they want is the ritual of throwing the first dirt onto the coffin.  Allow them that.  Allow the community to physically process this event.  Allow them in.  



2 comments:

Mrs. Johnson said...

Since you are up in that area now, do you by chance know if the Sawyers, Sunnie and Mike, and if they and their animals are ok? They live behind the landslide, about a mile from where it happened, towards Darrington. We got our ewes from them and we haven't been able to find out if they're ok.

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