OSO, Wash. – Today marked five years after a massive landslide devastated a small community outside Oso.
Years later there are signs of hope and healing moving forward while people gathered for a ceremony to honor and remember the 43 people killed in the Oso landslide.
It was the deadliest landslide in U.S history, forever changing the Snohomish County community.
Today, family members of the victims joined the community at the site, where there used to be a neighborhood holding a moment of silence at 10:37 a.m., the exact time of the slide.
It was a day of emotion and sadness for the loss, and a day of pride for the community as a highway was renamed.
A sculpture was also dedicated in honor of the victims and survivors, including Amanda Skorjanc and her infant son who survived the disaster.
“To me the mailboxes were a sign that I was home,” she said during today’s ceremony. “The slide took away any resemblance of home for all of us, so knowing we have our mailboxes back are comforting.”
One by one, the names of every man, woman and child who died were read during a ceremony that tried to remember exactly how much has been lost in the Stillaguamish Valley.
“It’s been rough, it’s hard,” said Dayn Brunner who lost a sister in the disaster. “It’s still really raw, really raw.”
“We miss them every day,” said Karen Pszonka who lost three generations to the slide.
It was an extremely emotional day along SR 530 where family members and friends of the victims along with first responders honored the 43 who lost their lives.
“When you look out here, this looks absolutely nothing like it did,” said Pszonka.
What it used to look like was home to dozens of people, but the slide stole each of them from this community. That’s why approximately 300 people showed up to honor their memory.
“Five years ago, the carnage that was through here was unbelievable,” recalled Brunner.
Brunner lost his sister Summer Raffo who had been driving on SR 530 at the time of the slide.
Even after her body was recovered, he and many others continued searching for other victims.
“It’s a nice round number and you think that okay we’ve moved along, but we really haven’t,” he said. “Moving along right now is getting this memorial done.”
“They’re supposed to be enjoying their lives,” said Pszonka pointing to a photo of her lost family members. “They were young, they’re babies.”
Pszonka lost more than most: her daughter, two grandchildren, a son in-law and his parents. What she hopes for most is a permanent memorial to honor not just her family, but also the first responders who helped locate her youngest grandson.
“As soon as she saw the little form that she wrapped him in a blanket and cuddled him in because she had little ones,” she said. “She’s got to keep that memory forever in her head, and she did it willingly to help us out.”
A street sign now joins a mailbox sculpture to remind everyone about the families who once lived here, and a portion of SR 530 has been renamed in honor of the 43 who were taken. But until a final memorial is built, those who lost so much worry the love that once lived on Steelhead Drive could fade away just as quickly as the last five years.
“We need something that lets that legacy that each one of them lived to live on,” said Brunner.
A fundraising committee is looking to raise $6 million to pay for design and construction of a permanent memorial. More information about that effort can be found here.