Recovery of Washington Mudslide Area Turns to State Highway

On the one month anniversary of the mudside that wiped out much of Oso, Wash., President Obama came to tour the devastation. The death toll stands at 41, with two missing. Restoring the region's economic lifeline, state Route 530, is top priority.
April 24, 2014, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Martin Kaste visited the mudlslide site along the highway, speaking with residents, workers involved in recovery, and experts including David Montgomery, "a prominent geomorphologist at the University of Washington and author of books such as "The Rocks Don't Lie." Listen here, or read the transcript.

Kaste states that "(t)he state Department of Transportation says the road will take months to clear, and maybe longer to rebuild," affecting the town of Darrington the hardest. "People there have been cut off from jobs and family, unless they spend hours on a roundabout route."

"A 35-minute commute up valley from Arlington to Darrington is now a two hour-plus drive up and around through the Skagit and Sauk River valleys," according to the Seattle PI.

What's striking is that unlike in other areas hit by landslides or other natural calamities, there does not appear to be the willingness to rebuild that is often seen elsewhere, such as disaster-prone areas in southern California where residents have said the "risk is worth it". Resident David Hall explains his thoughts to Kaste:

I think everybody would like to see some kind of memorial there, from what I've heard. And as far as building there, everyone's saying no way, you know. We shouldn't have been allowed to build there in the first place.

Kaste states that officials will investigate why housing was built there when the location has a history of landslides as recent as 2006. Montgomery, the geomorphologist, has doubts. "I don't think it's really fair to sort of second-guess whether or not people should have been able to see the potential for such a large slide at this site," he states.

I never imagined that the hillside on the far side of the valley could actually come across and wipe out the highway in under a couple of minutes. That never crossed my mind, as a geologist going up and down that slope.

"Oso is a chance for geologist to learn more about big slides," he adds.

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Published on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 in NPR
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