Was one of the deadliest mudslides in U.S. history completely foreseeable?

Randi Mann
·2 min read
Was one of the deadliest mudslides in U.S. history completely foreseeable?
Was one of the deadliest mudslides in U.S. history completely foreseeable?
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This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features stories about people, communities, and events and how weather impacted them.

On Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 10:36 a.m., a mudslide wiped out an unincorporated neighbourhood known as "Steelhead Haven," in Washington state.

Part of a hill collapsed, which sent mud and debris crashing down on top of a rural neighbourhood, killing 43 people and crushing 49 homes. Overall, approximately 1 square mile of land was completely engulfed by the mudslide.

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The town was located 6.4 km east of Oso and 88.5 km northeast of Seattle.

The Oso area is known for instability with a history of heavy groundwater and erosion. In March 2014, the area received 45 days of heavy rainfall, more than 200 per cent more than usual.

Once the hill collapsed, there was no stopping the debris, which contained full trees. A witness described the event as a "fast-moving wall of mud." A firefighter at the scene said, "When the slide hit the river, it was like a tsunami."

There's controversy over whether the landslide was foreseeable.

Washington State Mudslide
Washington State Mudslide

Courtesy Snohomish County Sheriff via Storyful

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Two days after the mudslide, John Pennington, director of Snohomish County's Department of Emergency Management, states, "This was a completely unforeseen slide. This came out of nowhere." The Seattle Times ran an article the same day that referenced facts about the history of landslides in that area. The next day, they followed up their research to illustrate that there were warnings.

But Steve Thomsen, Snohomish County Public Works director, said, "A slide of this magnitude is very difficult to predict. There was no indication, no indication at all."

The New York Times caught wind of this back-and-forth and published an article on March 29, 2014, that states, "DON’T tell me, please, that nobody saw one of the deadliest landslides in American history coming."

Washington State Mudslide
Washington State Mudslide

Courtesy Trooper Mark Francis via Storyful

To learn more about this controversial mudslide, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

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Thumbnail: Top view of slide area in Snohomish County, Washington. Courtesy of Wikipedia