Mar 31, 2014
The mudslide disaster in Washington state is heart-wrenching. As we go to press, there are 25 confirmed dead and at least 90 people still missing, making it almost certain that over half the population of the little town of Oso has been wiped out.
Oso is in an area prone to landslides and mud slides because of its rivers and steep hills. It is also just 55 miles northeast of Seattle and only 20 miles from Everett, where Boeing Aircraft Company builds many of the most technologically advanced airliners in the world. So you might think the residents of the town would have received some warning before the disaster struck. But they had no warning at all before the hillside above the town gave way unleashing a wall of mud, rocks and water.
In recent years, town residents were involved in efforts to stop flooding along the Stillaguamish River near town. And they knew there had been a mudslide near the town in 2006. But residents of Oso say they were not aware of the possibility that a mud slide could hit their town. Town officials claim they knew nothing of studies and reports in 1999, 2000 and 2006 warning of the danger the town faced.
But the straw that may have broken the camel’s back is the clear-cut timber cutting that results in elimination of tree roots that hold the soil and assure water absorption. Resulting landslides have occurred in the area for many decades. In the 1950s, slides occurred in nearby areas clear-cut in the 1940s. Slides in the 1960s, 1991, 2006 and 2014 happened in other nearby clear-cut areas. And nine years ago, it now appears that a logging company cut 350 feet past a boundary line that the state set to prevent the risk of a landslide uphill from Oso.
Oso is in an area fraught with danger. But in their drive for profit it now appears that logging companies may have been the ones that turned that danger into a complete disaster.