State honors Oso slide victims, survivors, community
Next month, the five-year remembrance ceremony will be held for the devastating Oso landslide that wiped out a neighborhood, claiming the lives of 43 people.
The families of those killed have been working to get a permanent memorial for the slide site, and this week they took a big step toward that effort.
The families are still working to raise money to break ground on the full permanent memorial, but one part of that plan was to get part of SR 530 – much of which was destroyed in the slide and later rebuilt – named in honor of those lost.
John Hadaway, whose brother Steven was killed in the slide while out on a job installing a satellite dish on one of the homes in the Steelhead Drive neighborhood, led the effort to lobby the Washington Transportation Commission to rename the highway.
Those efforts got a huge boost with hundreds of people from across the nation sending letters and emails of support to the WTC, including Governor Inlsee and several state lawmakers.
On Wednesday, the commission unanimously approved a resolution to rename a 23-mile stretch of the road “Oso Slide Memorial Highway.”
RESOLUTION NO. 736 WHEREAS, on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 10:37 a.m., a deadly landslide of historic proportion occurred – wstc.wa.gov
RESOLUTION NO. 736 WHEREAS, on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 10:37 a.m., a deadly landslide of historic proportion occurred along State Route (SR) 530 in a community known as Steelhead Haven, near the Town of Oso, Washington; and WHEREAS, forty-three individuals lost their lives that day, forty-nine homes were destroyed or damaged, and eleven people were rescued from the slide.
Several family members shared their stories with the commission ahead of the vote, including Hadaway.
“To me it’s not just a highway and it’s not pavement,” Hadaway told the commission. “To me it’s sacred ground … and that’s how it should be treated.”
“When people see that sign, they’re going to know that’s sacred ground … they’re going to know what happened, it’s going to give them direction, it’s going to give them meaning,” Hadaway said. “It’s just that extra step to what we need to accomplish and that is to make sure it’s not forgotten.”
It was an emotional experience for all of the families who came to speak, including Seth Jefferds, the volunteer firefighter who lost his wife and baby granddaughter – as well as his home – in the slide.
“It’s important to our families and to the community and to the people that responded out there, and by renaming the highway — giving that portion to everybody would be greatly appreciated,” Jefferds told the commission, fighting back tears.
“People would recognize the fact that this place means something to a lot of people and it’s part of the healing process for ourselves and everybody that was out there,” Jefferds added.
The WSDOT plan and dimensions for the Oso Slide Memorial Highway signs. (Snohomish County)
After the vote, there were hugs, tears and smiles all around. It was a bittersweet celebration for Karen and Jessica Pzonka, who lost six family members in the slide.
“First big step to getting to the memorial,” Karen said.
“So their legacy isn’t forgotten. That’s our number one goal, it’s our family members(s) and we don’t want anyone to forget them,” Jessica added.
“We want everyone to remember them forever and remember the fact that so many people came to our aid to help us with closure and getting our families back,” Jessica said, referring to the four months that search crews stayed at the slide site to find the remains of all 43 victims.
For Dayn Brunner, who lost his sister in the slide but continued to search for other victims for nearly three months, it meant the world that the commission took time to listen to their stories and did not just rubber stamp the highway renaming.
“For us to come in here and tell our stories and for them to listen – it’s not just a formality. They were in there and they listened to us and cried with us. You know, they were hanging on every word we were saying. That’s the human part of it and that means a lot to me,” Brunner said, adding that being able to talk about his sister, Summer, helps him heal.
John Hadaway says this is just the beginning as they continue to work for the ultimate goal of getting the full, permanent memorial at the slide site.
“This is one step to our final goal and we’re not stopping, just like it was when we were out there searching,” Hadaway said. “We’re not stopping until it’s done … so we’re going to do what we gotta do.”
The Oso Slide Memorial Highway signs will be dedicated at the remembrance ceremony on March 22, along with a mailbox sculpture – an homage to the line of mailboxes that used to mark the entrance to the Steelhead Haven neighborhood – the private paradise that was erased in the slide.
The families are still working toward their goal to raise $6 million for that permanent memorial. They’ve asked state lawmakers to approve about half of that in the 2019-2020 budget, which will be determined in the coming months.
You can find out how to donate to the permanent memorial here.