When a tragic landslide destroys a neighboring community, a humble mayor finds himself in the middle of disaster. Darrington's Mayor Dan Rankin reflects on the impact of the Oso landslide on his town and daily life.
Among towering peaks and winding logging roads lies the small town of Darrington, 16 miles east of Oso on Highway 530. A quick glance reveals scenes of normal small-town life - a forest service worker returns tools to his truck, a navy veteran sits outside the grocery store, a waitress at the burger barn kisses her daughter. Mayor Dan Rankin stands in an empty gymnasium that was a gathering point for landslide survivors and notes, "You know all those people, and what that means is you can go to four funerals in a week." The weight of a town's grief and mourning sinks in.
Mayor Rankin drives west on Highway 530, reflecting upon the events of March 22nd, 2014: On a day that appeared to be an ordinary Saturday for running an errand at the hardware store, he received word of a house in the middle of the highway. He drove to the location to investigate, and to his disbelief encountered a house in the road and an other-worldy scene of disaster. "It was like being dropped somewhere else where your bearings and the things that you knew weren't normal."
In the days following the landslide, Mayor Rankin recalls, he did not stop moving. Meeting with government officials, familes, and the media, a once part-time job became round-the-clock. With an air of humility, he reflects, "I had to make sure that things weren't falling through the cracks, people weren't falling through the cracks. But, you still don't feel like you've done enough."
From a viewpoint overlooking a recovering landscape, where the valley has been re-levelled, construction is ongoing, and new signs of life are emerging, a humble part-time mayor pauses amidst his now full-time job of rebuilding his community.
Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, the PBS NewsHour, and she received an Emmy® award in 2016 in the Arts feature category.More stories by Aileen Imperial