UCC begins coordinating Washington mudslide disaster relief efforts
Written by Emily Schappacher
April 4, 2014

As crews begin the second week of search-and-rescue work to find more victims of the mudslide that devastated the community of Oso, Wash., on March 22, the United Church of Christ's Disaster Ministries is in the early stages of coordinating its relief efforts. The mudslide, triggered when a rain-soaked hillside collapsed above the Stillaguamish River, demolished more than two dozen homes on the outskirts of Oso. The mud has produced quicksand-like conditions over a one-square-mile area, and has reached depths of 75 feet in some places. As of Thursday, April 3, 30 deaths had been confirmed and 15 people are still reported missing.

"This is within the daily consciousness of everyone around here," said the Rev. Mike Denton, conference minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC, based in Seattle, 55 miles northeast of Oso. "It's really weighing heavily on everyone's heart."

Denton said he is not aware of any UCC members or buildings that were harmed by the disaster, but added that some area congregation members have friends or family who were impacted.  The Pacific Northwest Conference serves as the religious representative for Washington State's Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster team, and the conference's disaster coordinator has been part of early conversations regarding upcoming recovery efforts.

While UCC groups are ready to help however they are needed, Denton said the utter devastation caused by this particular disaster may require recovery efforts that are outside the realm of what a typical church can offer.

"The disaster itself was devastating in the immediate area it impacted, but there are not a lot of areas of light or medium impact around it," Denton said. "The damage was so complete in so many ways that the [types of recovery] that churches can help out with may not help as much."

"It's too early," he continued. "We are waiting to hear what is going to be needed in the longer term."

Funds from One Great Hour of Sharing, the UCC's disaster relief fund, will be dedicated to help with recovery efforts as needs are identified. As the situation moves from search-and-rescue efforts to long-term recovery, OGHS resources will enable the UCC to be present through its partner organization Church World Service to respond to requests for training support and financial support and to organize long-term recovery committees, said the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, team leader of Global Sharing of Resources for the UCC's Wider Church Ministries.

"We continue to keep in prayer the victims and survivors of the tragic mudslide in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington state," Blaufuss said. "Reports indicate that the response, still in the search-and-rescue phase, will be a long recovery. OGHS resources make it possible for the UCC to be part of local responses and later, part of the rebuilding." 

For more information about donating to the relief funds, visit the UCC's National Disasters Ministries page.

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Ms. Emily Schappacher
Communications Specialist
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-2177
schappachere@ucc.org

Ms. Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-2196
larkmanc@ucc.org