The last victim; the next step

Four months to the day when a landscape transfigured into a river of earth, searchers recovered the last victim of the March 22 Oso mudslide. Molly Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge was 44.

It’s bittersweet, a testament to the resolve of searchers, heartrending for families, for 43 lives interrupted.

As The Herald’s Eric Stevick reported, Regelbrugge’s husband, Navy Cmdr. John Regelbrugge III, 49, also died in the slide. His body was recovered by two brothers and two sons in March.

“This is hopefully going to bring some relief to the family,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “It’s one of those things you can’t consider a blessing; you might consider it a balm.”

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary singled out Sgt. Danny Wikstrom and deputy Glen Bergstrom for their search-and-rescue and recovery work from day one.

“I’m humbled and honored that we are able return Kris to her family,” Trenary said. “I’m also extremely grateful to the communities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington who stood beside us these past four months in our efforts to recover all of the missing victims.”

By coincidence or fate, the discovery coincided with the release of the GEER report (the acronym stands for “Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance.”) The mission is to collect data quickly before natural geological events begin to adulterate evidence.

The report’s hard science is a reminder that we’re entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

The report flags 10 possible triggers for the initial stage of the Oso slide — from weeks of intense rain, to groundwater entering the slide zone from the Whitman Bench at the top of the hill, to surface drainage related to a 2006 slide.

“Studies conducted in the decades preceding the Oso Landslide clearly indicated a high landslide hazard at the site,” the report reads. “However, these studies were primarily focused on the impacts of landslides to the river versus the impacts to people or property.”

Here’s the money line: “Currently there are no national or state guidelines in the United States concerning levels of risk due to natural landslides that warrant action.”

This is where a joint commission on the Oso mudslide can play a meaningful role by analyzing past events, including residential zoning and the “remobilization” of the 2006 slide. A commission doesn’t need to assign blame (that will play out in the courts) but to examine what went wrong and the guidelines required to minimize future tragedies.

The GEER report is a case study in how to do it right.

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