Colorado sought advice here after experiencing own slide

EVERETT — Soon after authorities in western Colorado mobilized for a mammoth landslide Sunday evening, they reached out to their counterparts in Washington state.

Still wrestling with the aftermath of the March 22 Oso mudslide, Snohomish County sheriff’s supervisors called back to share what they could.

“I was appreciative of the opportunity to talk to somebody on the phone who’s been through this, even though there are differences,” said Sheriff Stan Hilkey, of Mesa County, Colorado.

The Colorado mudslide hit near Collbran, a ranching town where a flat-topped mountain called Grand Mesa dominates the landscape. The debris field stretched three miles long and up to three-quarters of a mile wide.

Missing ever since have been three ranchers who traveled to the area to check on a blocked irrigation network.

On Monday, Hilkey spoke at length to Sgt. Danny Wikstrom, a 30-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who oversees the search and rescue unit in Snohomish County, and was deeply involved in Oso.

“It really gave us direction on where we could concentrate our first search efforts,” Hilkey said.

They talked about keeping emergency personnel safe in the debris pile. Hilkey learned of the physical and emotional toll the Oso search had exacted on workers and volunteers.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office was glad to be part of the exchange of information, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said. They were on the other end not long ago.

After the Oso slide, they reached out to authorities who led the response to deadly flooding that washed over 17 Colorado counties last year.

“We were asking a lot of the questions that Sheriff Hilkey is asking of us,” Ireton said.

While both Snohomish and Mesa counties suffered massive, deadly slides, the challenges are distinct.

“Your loss of life and property up there was much greater,” Hilkey said.

The Oso slide buried a rural neighborhood and a stretch of state highway, killing 43 people.

The disaster in Colorado affected a remote area, less populated and harder for emergency workers to reach.

The debris there is unlike the slurry formed in Oso by a mix of river water, glacial soils, trees and more.

“Ours is a bedrock slide,” Hilkey said. “We’re talking earthen bedrock. It’s very dry and deep.”

The Colorado slide didn’t reach any homes, though some might be at risk if more earth comes tumbling down. A huge land mass remains near the top of the slide with a lake forming behind it.

Safety issues forced authorities to call off the search for the three men missing in Colorado.

For now, their efforts are largely limited to monitoring the slide by air and deploying equipment to gauge the risk of more land movement.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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