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Photo by Washington State Patrol

The March 22 landslide near Oso in Washington State left at least 14 dead and more than 170 missing.

United Methodists ready to assist after Washington mudslide

By Linda Bloom
March 25, 2014 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

United Methodist Early Response Teams stand ready to assist after the deadly mudslide in Washington State, but Jim Truitt doesn’t expect a call soon.

Because of the extensive debris and damaged roads, “it’s going to be a very long time before they allow anything like an ERT in that area,” said Truitt, the United Methodist Volunteers-in-Mission coordinator for the denomination’s Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference.

The unexpected March 22 mudslide blocked a state highway and flattened homes and property near Oso. By the morning of March 25, 14 people had been found dead and more than 170 people were considered missing. 

Authorities were beginning to allow trained, FEMA-certified search and rescue teams into the affected area, Truitt said. “Up until now, they haven’t let the search dogs or the cadaver dogs go in because the ground was just too unstable,” he explained.

Bishop Grant Hagiya called for prayers after the disaster. The conference has asked churches to start collecting monetary donations for those who lost possessions and homes in the mudslide. The Rev. L. George Abrams, co-coordinator of the conference’s disaster response team, is evaluating the need for a long-term recovery committee.

“I have my ERTs on alert, ready to dispatch when we are able and asked,” Truitt said.

Two United Methodist churches are on either side of the earthen dam created by the mudslide between the towns of Darrington and Arlington.

Arlington United Church, a congregation that is affiliated with both The United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Covenant Church, had a March 24 evening prayer service for those affected. Many in the town knew those who were known to have perished or were thought to be missing, Truitt said.

“So far, no one in Arlington or downstream from the blockage has been physically damaged,” he added. With flooding upstream toward Darrington, “the last report I had there were seven homes plus many outbuildings that had water up to the eaves.”

That flooding, he noted, is less than the catastrophic flooding that would have occurred if the earthen dam had not held. “The river has very genteelly cut a new path through the mudslide and the water seems to be draining very nicely,” he said.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 had a “very similar” effect in the Pacific-Northwest Conference, but a “500-year” flood in 2007 in a southwestern county that inundated some 1,400 homes in a 50-mile radius “would be the closest thing to this mudslide,” Truitt said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.