OSO, Wash. – When a school closes, part of a small town dies. Another part goes with the shuttering of the only grocery store and gas station.
Oso has known those losses, and now a deadly landslide, but the pastor of the town’s only church would advise against writing his community off.
“Some of the infrastructure is no longer here, but there is a lot of life,” says Rev. Gary Ray, pastor of Oso Community Chapel.
Life in Oso these days comes in the form of an army of volunteers assisting in the search at the slide. Searchers and first responders sleep on mattresses in the old Oso school.
Rhodes River Ranch, a training and breeding facility for reining horses, is now also a sorting station for clothing and food.
“This town has a lot of stamina,” says Bonnie Rose, a Rhodes River manager. “They won’t give up.”
Down the road, Ron Carlson is operating the saw mill alone. His co-owner is out at the landslide assisting with the search.
“Pretty resilient bunch around here,” he says. “They’ll be some wounds and a lot of pain for a little while, but pretty resilient people.”
Yet people in Oso are realists.
“This is probably a two year recovery plan, minimum, that we’re looking at,” says Ray.
People who lost homes will need places to stay, same for the workers who will aid in the rebuilding. Already the community is beginning an inventory of empty rooms and homes that may be available for rent.
Kelli Perkins, out of her home since Saturday, returned Thursday for her television, still afraid to stay for fear of flooding on Deer Creek.
“There’s nothing worth my life here. I have a choice. I can get out,” she said.
Yet Perkins, like so many others, is committed to returning.
“It’s our own little piece of paradise,” she says, looking out at the creek behind her home.
Oso’s residents have seen better days, but count Perkins among those believing the best could still be ahead.
“We love our little piece of the world,” she says.