Small-Town Washington Mayor Finds New Role After Mudslide

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/ Source: Associated Press

DARRINGTON, Wash.- Days after a Washington state mudslide left dozens dead and missing, Dan Rankin stood in a high school gymnasium and hugged tight a teenage girl reeling from the loss of her sister.

Before the March 22 disaster, Rankin's main tasks as mayor of the small logging town of Darrington included overseeing town council meetings and resolving property line disputes in the community of about 1,350 people.

But since the mudslide about 10 miles west of town, Rankin's job has been transformed into that of comforting the grieving and articulating their anguish to the outside world.

"That scar on the mountain will never heal nor will the scar in our hearts ever heal," Rankin, 52, told reporters.

In the week since a chunk of rain-soaked hillside 1,500 feet long tumbled onto a river near the tiny community of Oso, smothering a state road and swallowing up dozens of homes, Rankin's new role symbolizes the changed reality for many in the area northeast of Seattle.

Along with those who lost their homes and relatives, nearly everyone in Darrington is mourning a friend or acquaintance lost in the disaster, and usually more than one.

For Rankin, who spent years as a logger before sore knees led him to buy his own sawmill, the mudslide has ushered in a routine that revolves around ensuring supplies get to rescuers and the displaced and meeting the daily needs of townspeople.

It has also brought changes closer to home.

After his friends' home was flooded after the mudslide, he put them up in the house just up the hill from his own, where his mother lived before dying last year.

"She was my neighbor. So I have neighbors again," the mayor said.

- The Associated Press