Protecting your home and community

Did the Tragedy in Washington State Have to Happen?

A photo of mud covering the area

Photo: LA Times

The mudslide that ripped through Oso, Washington, on Saturday morning has claimed more lives.


Emergency services have recovered five more bodies, bringing the death count to eight, with over a dozen hospitalized.  There are still a dozen or more people unaccounted for, and hopes for rescuing additional survivors are fading, as the voices crying out for help since Saturday have gone silent.


A destroyed building

Photo: AP

Search crews have been searching day and night through the area, which Washington State Governor Jay Inslee called “a square mile of total devastation.”


Eyewitness Paulo Falcao de Oliveira was driving his SUV up Highway 530 on his way to Darrington when he saw the mudslide hit. Mud, rocks, trees and other debris swallowed the road and the vehicles in front of him.

“I was three cars back, and I saw a truck with a boat,” said the Lynnwood man, who was heading to Darrington to pick up his children. “After that, I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds.”


On Sunday Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said,

“We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today,” he said, adding that they did not search the entire debris field, only drier areas safe to traverse. “It’s very disappointing to all emergency responders on scene. We have this huge square-mile mudflow that’s basically like quicksand.”


Officials said that the mudslide was caused by recent heavy rains, which made the soil unstable, however, geological maps of the area published by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources show clearly areas of slide activity all along the scenic area.

Geologic map of the mudslide area

Washington State Department of Natural Resources


After the rescues, after the recovery, and after the mourning for the victims, authorities should be questioned as to whether homes should have been built in the area, and whether it is safe to rebuild.

[Update 3/24/14] Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington has said that they have reports of 108 people who are missing. It’s a “soft number,” and does not necessarily correspond to the actual number of casualties.

[Update 3/25/14 10:09 EDT] Authorities say the search continues for what is now said to be 176 missing people. Fourteen bodies have been recovered. President Obama has declared the event a natural disaster.

[Update 3/25/14] The Seattle Times Watchdog column notes that the risk of slides has been known for decades.

[Update 3/26/14] State allowed logging on plateau above slope. Report by Mike Baker, Ken Armstrong, and Hal Bernton for The Seattle Times.

[Update 3/27/2014 7:35 EST] There are several articles about the pressures of building on unsafe ground. Here’s one by reporter Tom Banse for KPLU-FM. Geologist Dr. Dan Miller has a series of reports on the Oso area.

[Update 3/29/2014 A Mudslide, Foretold. An Op-Ed in the New York Times by Timothy Egan on why the tragedy didn’t have to happen.

[Udpate 4/1/2014  (CNN) — “The grim death toll from the massive landslide in rural Washington rose Monday to 24 people, and the discovery of three more bodies means the list of those confirmed killed likely will rise soon, authorities said.

“Twenty-two people are now listed as missing, down from 30 earlier in the day, [Snohomish County Executive Director Gary] Haakenson said. At least 16 of the people on the unaccounted for list went missing on the same road.”

[Update 4/9/2014 National Public Radio reports
that the number of deaths from the slide has risen to 35. The number of missing has been reduced to 11.]

Information for the original piece came from BBC Ne ws, Veeooz news service, The Herald of Everett, Washington, FoxNews, o.canada news service, and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources

Subscribe to Public Health Preparedness

Your email address