In a normal week, the Weller Funeral Home in Arlington, Wash., might prepare for two or three funerals.
But in this time of tragedy, as more bodies are recovered from the March 22 mudslide in nearby Oso, the funeral home is tasked with burying at least a dozen people in the coming days. The first of the services is set for Saturday.
It’s an overwhelming responsibility for the small staff, which is also collecting donations to help victims’ families with funeral costs, said office manager Carrie Stucky.
“We’ve had to recruit other funeral directors to help with it all,” Stucky told NBC News. “We’ll likely see more [funerals] over the next couple of weeks, but it all depends on how soon people are identified.”
Twenty-two of the 28 victims received by the medical examiner's office have been positively identified so far. Twenty people remain missing, officials said.
The first service is scheduled for 69-year-old retired librarian Linda McPherson at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Darrington Community Center.
Another memorial service is planned for one of the youngest victims, 5-year-old Kaylee Spillers, at 11 a.m. Monday at Smokey Point Community Church in Arlington.
Kaylee’s 4-year-old brother, Jacob, survived the disaster, while her mother wasn’t home at the time.
Presumed dead in the disaster are Kaylee’s dad, Billy Spillers, her 2-year-old sister, Brooke Spillers, and her 13-year-old stepbrother Jovon Mangual. All are among the missing.
The Weller Funeral Home is currently overseeing burials for at least 10 other victims: Christina Jefferds, 45, and her 4-month-old granddaughter, Sonoah Huestis; Summer Raffo, 36; William Welsh, 66; Joseph Miller, 47; couple Lewis and JuDee Vandenburg, 71 and 64, respectively; Shane Ruthven, 41, and son Hunter, 6; and Julie Farnes, 59.
Another facility, the Schaefer-Shipman Funeral Home in Marysville, is handling the cremation of Alan Bejvl, 21. Service information was still pending Tuesday.
Elaine Thompson / AP
A canister labeled as donations for victims of a deadly landslide sits at the counter of a cafe on March 28, 2014, in Arlington, Wash.
The unexpected costs of burials are a burden for a number of the families in Oso, forcing some of them to turn to raising funds online.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee sent out a letter Monday to the federal government asking for a major disaster declaration, which would help families apply for federal aid for housing, unemployment insurance and psychological counseling. Aid could also cover funeral costs “for up to 48 people,” Inslee said.
The state Department of Enterprise Services also has $250,000 available through the state’s excess insurance policy that can be used during a state-declared emergency, such as the Oso mudslide, said department spokesman Curt Hart.
So far, one claim has been made for $1,800 to cover a victim’s funeral expenses, he added.
The local Catholic Community Services wants to pay for funeral and burial costs for all of the victims, no matter their religious beliefs. Families of nine victims have inquired about assistance, said the Rev. Tim Sauer, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Arlington.
“We’re talking about a considerable amount of money total, but we’re confident with the contacts we have and the donations so far,” Sauer told NBC News.
“Quite frankly, if we need more, we’ll put the message out,” he added. “We trust that God will help make it happen.”
First published April 2 2014, 1:29 AM