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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the federal delegation representing Snohomish County urged President Obama and top Administration officials to continue federal aid efforts in response to last week’s Oso landslide by granting the major disaster declaration requested by Washington Governor Jay Inslee earlier today. The delegation includes U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Rick Larsen (WA-02), and Jim McDermott (WA-07). 

“We are grateful for your quick approval of Governor Inslee’s request to amend the federal emergency disaster declaration on March 27, 2014. However, as the magnitude of the disaster becomes increasingly apparent, so too has the long-term personal and economic effects on these communities,” the delegation members said.  “The current emergency declaration, while vital in supporting the immediate search and rescue efforts, is inadequate to support the long-term needs of individuals in Darrington, Oso, and Arlington, and the members of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe. Their lives will be forever altered by the trauma they experienced on March 22, and they will continue to experience hardship as the search continues for their missing loved ones.” 

Last week, the delegation urged the President to expedite and quickly approve the Governor’s request to expand initial federal aid commitments. The President then approved that request the same day.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to grant as quickly as possible the major disaster declaration requested by Washington Governor Jay Inslee on March 31, 2014.

As you know, on Saturday, March 22, 2014, a massive landslide near Oso, Washington, in Snohomish County, destroyed homes, damaged public infrastructure, and blocked the Stillaguamish River. More than 25 people have lost their lives, 14 have been injured, and 30 are still unaccounted for and presumed to be in the disaster area. State Route 530, the primary transportation artery between Arlington and the small communities of Oso and Darrington to the east, has been closed indefinitely due to the landslide.  

We are grateful for your quick approval of Governor Inslee’s request to amend the federal emergency disaster declaration on March 27, 2014. However, as the magnitude of this disaster becomes increasingly apparent, so too has the long-term personal and economic effects on these communities. The current emergency declaration, while vital in supporting the immediate search and rescue efforts, is inadequate to support the long-term needs of individuals in Darrington, Oso, and Arlington, and the members of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe. Their lives will be forever altered by the trauma they experienced on March 22, and they will continue to experience hardship as the search continues for their missing loved ones.  

Within a matter of seconds, 1.3 square miles of earthen material rushed down the mountainside, burying people in their homes under 40 feet of mud, turning cars into scrap metal, depositing hazardous material and other debris in the trees, river, and soil, and forever affecting the lives of thousands of our constituents. In small rural towns such as Oso, Arlington, and Darrington, where everyone knows one another, the impact of a disaster reaches far beyond the number of individuals who lost a family member or whose property was destroyed. While these are strong communities, additional federal resources are necessary to respond to the individual needs of these disaster survivors.

Over the last week, we visited the landslide and spent time with the affected communities in Darrington and Arlington. Although these are proud and fiercely independent people who are accustomed to taking care of their own and handling situations amongst the community, we heard loud and clear their pleas for help. One man in Darrington, while proud to be hosting a displaced family, spoke of the community members in need of housing and financial assistance.

We heard from teachers who live in Arlington, but work in Darrington’s public schools, whose commute went from 35 minutes one way before the landslide blocked State Route 530 to at least two hours. This is taking a toll on not just their wallet and their time but also on their emotional wellbeing while they spend hours more each day away from their families. One woman in Darrington told us of her unemployment insurance running out and expressed fear and uncertainty about how she will pay the bills in the coming weeks. Survivors, many of whom lost family members in the landslide, are asking for help with contacting insurance companies and mortgage providers to understand how this disaster will affect their family. As you can clearly see, these Americans need our help.

We fully support Governor Inslee’s request for a major disaster declaration. The individual assistance with housing, transportation, legal services, disaster unemployment, crisis counseling and other supports will help meet the needs of the families we met and the scores more just like them who are struggling in the aftermath of this disaster.

We are enormously proud of the more than 250 first responders and search and rescue personnel from multiple local and state agencies who have responded heroically to this tragedy. We are grateful for all those who have traveled from Colorado, California, Idaho, and other states to lend their assistance and expertise. We also deeply appreciate the commitment of the many citizen volunteers, charities, businesses, and local elected and appointed officials who have risen to serve their neighbors during this very difficult time.

While local communities and state agencies have responded admirably, a disaster of this magnitude requires long-term federal assistance to help these communities respond, rebuild, and cope with the tragedy. We therefore urge you to grant Governor Inslee’s request in its entirety for a major disaster declaration as soon as possible. 

Thank you in advance for your quick attention to this matter.