Oso, site of deadliest landslide in U.S. history reacts to safety measures pushed by Congress

Residents of Oso, Wash. are responding to congress taking action to make landslides less deadly, more than six years after a landslide killed 43 people in the area. Now, that tragedy is finally leading to real change.

Landslides kill an average of 25 to 50 people per year in the United States. 

Right now in Alaska, authorities continue the search for two people missing after a landslide slammed into a neighborhood in Haines last week. The debris field estimated to be 600 feet wide took out four homes. 

That news from Alaska created a flood of emotions for people in Oso.

“That brings up a lot of real memories and emotion because as a community we can relate to that, we have unfortunately experienced that horror,” said Joel Johnson, a fire chaplain with the Oso Fire Department. 

Johnson was in Oso following the deadly landslide that took place on March 22, 2014. He helped recover many of the victims and supported the department through its darkest days. 

For Dayn Brunner, the brother of 36-year-old Summer Raffo who was killed in the slide, the pain of his loss still persists. 

“They say time heals all, and we miss her a lot," said Brunner. "I miss her so much. My family misses her. We just wish she was still here with us.”

Two years after the slide, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, whose district includes Oso, began working to save people from the threat of deadly landslides. It took four years, but the bill she introduced just passed the U.S. House.

Its provisions help broaden scientific knowledge about landslides and develop better protocols on how best to respond to them.

The U.S. Geological Survey would also be tasked with developing a publicly accessible national landslide hazard database and strengthening an early warning system for debris flow.

“It’s so important," Rep. DelBene said. "I’ve been fighting for this legislation so we have these resources and this focus on landslides. So, it will mean a great deal to me to see this bill get across the finish line.”

The bill must now go before the Senate and President for approval. The Senate had passed a similar bill before the House’s revised version was approved. DelBene’s staff told Alaska Public Media that it was highly likely that the Senate would approve the revised bill.

"Anything that we can do to prevent and avoid something like this, is kind of a light that can come out of a dark situation,” Johnson said.  

Hopefully, it will save other communities from the suffering, still felt in Oso.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.