I’ve been shocked and saddened by the terrible loss-of-life and destruction caused by the March 22 Oso landslide/mudslide. The Daily Herald’s excellent reporting, including the article about “What moved the mountain,” helped decipher why the monumental debris flow occurred.
Washington’s mountains and weather have long fascinated me during my six decades here. I’ve written pioneering articles about Washington’s highest mountains, steepest mountain faces, mountain volumes and longest roadless river valleys.
According to USGS Mount Higgins topographic map (scale 1:24,000), landforms similar to the slope that failed and engulfed the residents in the valley, exist immediately to the west, east, south and southeast. I’m sure the state will again employ expert geologists/hydrologists and other scientists and engineers to carefully study potential landslide areas — especially in the North Fork Stillaguamish River valley, which has proven to be extremely dangerous. I imagine subtle differences in the topography, geology and hydrology can dramatically change the stability of a hill or mountain slope.
The key is to take prudent measures to help prevent such future devastating tragedies. Perhaps some slopes should be safely excavated or stabilized as a protective measure. Alternatively, maybe the most dangerous slopes should be monitored in some way to assess the slide risks. Certainly it makes sense to be careful how logging, road-building and construction activities are conducted in the areas with “unstable geology.” Modeling should also be done to estimate the effects on landslide terrain when deluges of rain occur during an hour, day or month. Although I haven’t worked as a geologist for a very long time (nor am I a certified geologist), I’m concerned for the people who live and travel through the affected area. Also, my prayers go out to those who lost loved ones and everyone who has helped in the rescue and recovery operations.