What the months ahead hold for the Stillaguamish Valley

OSO — A great deal of hard work remains ahead connected to the deadly March 22 mudslide.

Here is some of what will be attracting attention in the coming months:

Recovery: Although the active search has been suspended, efforts will continue to find the last victim missing and presumed killed in the slide. Searchers have reason to hope the earth will give up Kris Regelbrugge, 44. Meanwhile, efforts continue to identify and return personal property to families whose homes were destroyed.

Road: Contractors are working around the clock to remove millions of cubic yards of earth and other debris covering Highway 530. It is unknown at this time how much repair work will be necessary or exactly how much that will cost. The state hopes to reopen the highway in October.

River: The North Fork Stillaguamish River, blocked by the slide, is a big unknown. Crews have carved a temporary channel, but the river may have other ideas, particularly when flood season returns in the fall.

Regulation: Snohomish County is taking a fresh look at building around landslide hazard areas. Meanwhile, the state has begun examining its logging regulations and already has enacted requirements for more geotechnical study in slide risk zones.

Aid: The landslide’s destruction has left many people who call the Stillaguamish Valley home struggling to sort out the basics, including shelter and employment. FEMA claims are being processed. Tax authorities are identifying which properties were destroyed. Efforts already are under way to rebuild the economy in the affected area.

Litigation: Several multimillion-dollar damage claims already have been brought against state and county government on behalf of families who lost people and property in the slide. Lawsuits have not yet been filed, but that seems a certainty. Lawyers say the litigation is necessary to get answers for the victims’ families.

Science: Experts say it is going to take some digging in the dirt to determine precisely why the hill collapsed. A number of theories have been advanced — heavy rains, unstable soils, the effects of logging, and combinations of the above — but the data also suggest the slide was an outlier, covering a far greater distance than anyone ever predicted. No matter what scientists decide, the findings almost certainly will challenge strongly held opinions.

Healing: The death toll has left many Stilly Valley families struggling to move ahead with loss. This is a place where deaths have long been marked with community dinners and other public grieving.

While nobody living here has faced anything like the slide before, the people are no strangers to struggle.

“Everyone is going to survive this. They are going to get through it,” said Darrington’s Lorraine Nations. “It may take a while. Hopefully it makes us all stronger people.”

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