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Originally published April 5, 2014 at 7:38 PM | Page modified April 6, 2014 at 8:41 AM

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Memorials begin, search continues for slide victims

Two weeks after the Oso mudslide, private memorial services began for some victims while search efforts continued for others.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Two weeks after the Oso mudslide, at two towns on opposite ends of where the disaster occurred, funeral and memorial services began Saturday for some of the victims, a new phase of communal grieving that will extend throughout this month.

The services started while search efforts continued for other victims of the March 22 mudslide. Reflecting how long and difficult that search has been, the state Department of Agriculture deployed its Reserve Veterinary Corps to treat about 30 search dogs for cuts and hypothermia, among other ailments.

Along with three memorial services, the communities around the mudslide held a candlelight vigil and a fundraiser on Saturday.

The service for 69-year-old Linda McPherson, a former school-board member and librarian, drew about 400 people to the Darrington Community Center, which was filled with daffodils and tulips in shades of yellow, orange and pink. Photos of McPherson, some salvaged from her family’s flattened home, were displayed next to a teddy bear, a set of canned preserves, and paintings she had made.

A mix of emergency workers, family, friends, former co-workers and people McPherson had mentored from all over Snohomish County shared stories after the service and ate food set out on eight long tables.

McPherson, a Darrington High School alumnus who raised a family on the property wiped out by the mudslide, had deep connections to hundreds of people living in the Oso and Darrington area. Her husband, injured in the slide, was rescued by neighbors and passers-by.

Services for Summer Raffo, 36, the fifth child in a Darrington family of 13 kids, and Joseph Miller, a former military medic, were also held Saturday, in Arlington. In the next week, more private services will be held for Alan Bejvl, 5-year-old Kaylee Spillers, William Welsh and others.

“People all across the country have been affected by this disaster,” Eric McPherson said at his mother’s memorial service. “Almost everybody here has lost somebody — they were our neighbors, our friends and our family.”

“She had just borrowed my scrapbook so she could plan a trip to Norway this summer,” Ellen Phillips, 68, said of McPherson. Phillips said McPherson had mentored her before she decided to be on the Lakewood School Board in Marysville. “She was a role model for a lot of people.”

As of Friday, 30 people have been confirmed dead and 13 are still missing after the mudslide sent waves of earth, trees and debris across the Stillaguamish River and into homes on the other side. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office said it would not update that list until Monday.

A search for victims in the debris field continued over a soggy weekend, said incident command spokeswoman Dian Vervalen.

On Sunday, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson are expected to survey the Oso mudslide site and meet with emergency responders and victims.

Over the next week, plans to mitigate potential downstream flooding are also expected to progress. The Stillaguamish, backed up by debris, has flooded areas east of the mudslide while gradually spilling some water westward.

But hydrologic reports saying water flow could drastically increase over the next few weeks as snow melts from the Cascades prompted the state to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to look at how to prevent more flood damage downstream.

In Arlington on Saturday night, live country music filled the Rhodes River Ranch arena while hundreds of people bid on more than 700 items up for auction.

After two weeks of watching his community rescue and recover friends and family, Johnny Green of Arlington thought it was time for people to take a break.

“It is a different culture in Arlington, Oso and Darrington,” said Green, a member of the band Pack String. “People are self-reliant. ... We were all raised that way.”

“Everyone has been working nonstop, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to take the night off and have fun.”

All the proceeds from the fundraiser will be given to the Oso Fire Association to distribute to those who need help.

Seattle Times staff reporter Coral Garnick contributed from Arlington. Alexa Vaughn reported from Darrington. Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com



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