By The Associated Press
OSO, Wash. – With a moment of silence and a community walk, the stretch of highway covered by a massive mudslide in Washington state reopened Saturday, a symbolic step forward following two months of destruction, loss and recovery.
State and local leaders helped residents mark the reopening of State Highway 530 after the March 22 mudslide killed 42 people about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. Gov. Jay Inslee didn’t make remarks at the opening, instead joining the dozens of people walking, including Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and other community leaders.
“It’s nice for people to be here together for each other,” Inslee told the Everett Herald (http://bit.ly/1kcRvhr ).
On top of those killed, one person, Kris Regelbrugge, remains missing.
The reopening of one lane of the highway will shorten travel times considerably between the communities of Arlington and Darrington. Before the slide, about 4,000 vehicles travelled that section of road on a typical day, the state Department of Transportation said.
Since last month, many vehicles have been driving around the slide on a gravel access road.
Pilot cars will guide groups of vehicles on the reopened lane of highway. The road is expected to reopen entirely with an additional lane in October after reconstruction is complete.
Drivers will have to travel over a 600-foot stretch of just gravel where the roadway was completely destroyed, the transportation department said.
After about 100,000 cubic yards of debris was removed, transportation officials found it mostly intact but in need of repair, except for the missing portion.
During reconstruction, some of the highway will be elevated to accommodate flooding and changes in the nearby Stillaguamish River.
At the opening ceremony, more than 100 people gathered near the giant spruce tree that stands as a memorial for those who died in the slide.
Pastor Gary Ray of the Oso Community Chapel addressed the gathering.
“I believe we are better together, so thank you again for standing shoulder to shoulder, neighbour to neighbour,” Ray said.