Washington mudslide: Oso church reaches out

Oso Community Chapel is the only church on a 30-mile stretch of State Route 530, the roadway sliced in half March 22 by a massive landslide in Oso, Washington, that killed at least 14 people and destroyed some 50 homes.

According to an article by Joe Conway for The Baptist Press (BP), none of Oso Chapel's 80 members were injured and none lost their homes, said pastor and church planter Gary Ray.

But in the rural community of 500 along the Stillaguamish River, all of the members of the Southern Baptist church know people affected by the tragedy.

"We are the only church on the only road through here," Ray said. "The church is less than two miles from the impact area."

He added, "The roads are blocked, the power is out and communication is a challenge. We want to mobilise the church and the community to support the recovery work," the BP reported Ray said. "We want to be able to do anything we can to help with an eye to long-term community support and rebuilding. This area is highly unchurched."

Northwest Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Director Gary Floyd said he is supporting Ray's efforts and asks people to pray for the relief work.

"This is currently a local response," Floyd said. "The biggest thing I would ask people to do now is to pray for Ray and his wife, Tina, and for the recovery efforts. Local emergency management has had to suspend work because the ground is unstable and more rain is moving in."

Reuters said Wednesday that at least 90 individuals remained missing four days after the disaster, down from 176 listed as unaccounted for earlier.

Snohomish County's emergency management director, John Pennington, told reporters there may be as many as 35 more people whose fate remains uncertain but they are not being officially listed as missing.

Reuters said the known death toll from the landslide stood at 24, including eight whose bodies have been located but have yet to be recovered.

That figure does not include an unspecified number of additional remains that a state police spokesman said had been found on Wednesday, Pennington said.

Floyd continued, "The nature of the response will take time to tell what is needed. Gary is doing a great job coordinating things. One thing is certain; the rebuild effort will take three to five years. There will be opportunities to help well into the future."

The possibility of establishing a shuttle service for area residents is one immediate idea Ray shared.

"What was a 20-mile trip now takes more than 60 miles," the BP reported Ray said. "We want to identify needs and address those. Are there childcare needs, communications, pet care needs? We will assess what is needed and try to meet those needs. We have a heart to reach out and help our community."

Oso Chapel has planted a new church in Standwood that will launch on Easter, and is planning a new church on Camino Island. Ray echoed Floyd's request when asked what people can do to help in the response.

"Pray. That is what we need most, and what the families here need most. We will be here to help them as much as we can, in any way we can. We need people to pray," he said.

The BP said the North American Mission Board coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers - including chaplains - and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, visit www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations

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