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AbledNews Special Coverage banner shows an aerial view of the Oso mudslide taken by Washington State Patrol that shows the bare curved cliff side that was formerly a ridge covered with Alder and evergreen trees and the scale of the massive devastation where it tore through a community of homes and farms. The headline reads: The Oso Mudslide: Heartbreaking Loss and Inspiring Stories of Heroism and Support.
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Neighborhood Sees 25 Homes Wiped Out By Massive Mudslide

It happened almost in the blink of an eye.  At 10:37 a.m. on Saturday, March 22nd, a  massive square-mile wall of hillside, said to be the equivalent of 547 football fields filled 6 feet (82.88 cm) deep with mud and trees, roared down on a small community of about 180 people living in homes and farms called the Steelhead neighborhood, in Washington State, named for the rainbow trout that migrate through the area’s streams and rivers.


Nestled in the picturesque glacial Stillaguamish river valley between the towns of Oso, about 4 miles (6.4 km) to the east, and Darrington, about 12 miles (19 km) to the west, along State Route 530, people who were reading the morning paper, babysitting a grandchild or helping a neighbor with repairs were swept away by a surging tide of mud, trees and debris estimated to be 30 to 40 feet (9.1-12.2m) deep.


That morning, Paulo Falcao de Oliveira was driving west along SR530 to pick up his kids in Darrington. He told the Everett Herald that, suddenly, mud, rocks, trees and other debris swallowed the road and the vehicles in front of him. “I was three cars back, and I saw a truck with a boat,” said the Lynnwood man. “After that, I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds.”


As the newspaper’s online site reported, ‘De Oliveira had only a few seconds to brake to avoid the slide. He jumped out of his car. He felt he had to do something to help, so when police arrived he tried to move some debris. “We heard a woman and a baby screaming” in the rubble, he said. De Oliveira saw emergency crews pull a baby from the mud and debris. Police say a 6-month-old was flown to Harborview Medical Center, where the child was listed in critical condition. 


De Oliveira had been running late, and was stuck behind a slow driving vehicle.“I had a car that was driving in front of me that was going so slow,” he said. Had he been a few seconds faster, that would have been him in the slide. “I feel lucky,” he said.’


Click here to read more of the Everett Herald’s coverage that day here.


De Oliveira shot video with his smartphone of the immediate aftermath and it’s part of the Breaking News coverage recorded from NBC affiliate King5 in Seattle:

Bittersweet Rescues For Survivors Who’ve Lost Family & Friends

Photo shows the collapsed rooftop of Mac McPherson's house with an American Flag on a pole rising out of a hole in the rooftop. The so-called headscarp or cliff left behind by the mudslide is visible in the background. Pool photo by Ellaine Thompson of the Associated Press.

The crushed rooftop in the press pool photo above, by Elaine Thompson/AP,  belongs to Mac McPherson. The house that the 78 year-old and his wife Linda lived in was directly in the path of the mud, rocks, trees and debris that came slamming down at over 100 miles per hour in a matter of seconds.


Mac and his wife Linda were sitting in their living room reading the newspaper on the morning of Saturday, March 22nd. In an instant, everything was lost . . . including his beloved Linda. You can click here to go to the AbledCauses section of our Special Report to see and hear his account of what happened. 


You might call Mac one of the lucky ones. On the one hand he was found alive. But on the other hand he, like so many in this small community, has suffered heartbreaking loss.


On the morning of March 22, Bobbi Aylesworth looked out her bathroom window for the last time. She and her husband Bob had lived in the same family home for decades, and suddenly they were being swept up in a surging wall of mud, rocks, trees and debris., as were her parents who lived next door. Her father was rescued and is now in the hospital, but her mother is still missing.


As Abbey Gibb from KING 5 News reports, their house that sits just south of State Route 530 was carried hundreds of yards away:

What Caused The Slide?


Near record rainfall of 200% above normal levels  and an earthquake in the preceding weeks were likely the major contributing factors to the massive mudslide in the Steehead  Drive neighborhood.


Slide and slide-related activity on the so-called ‘Hazel Landslide’, (a section of Whitman Bench which is a terrace that sits about 800 feet (240m) above the valley left by previous glaciers),  goes back decades. And a previous , but smaller slide in 2006 likely weakened the surrounding structures.


As explained at Wikipedia


“When the Puget Lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet came south fromBritish Columbia and filled the Puget Lowland it dammed the various mountain valleys, forming lakes.[16] Sediments washed down from the higher mountains settled in the lake bottoms to form a layer of clay.


As the glacial ice pressed higher against the western end of Mount Frailey the water flowing around the edge of the ice from the north was forced around Mount Frailey, eventually pouring in through the long valley extending to the northwest now occupied by Lake Cavanaugh. Where this flow entered the glacial lake the sand and gravel it carried dropped out to form a delta, the remnant of which is now Whitman Bench.[17] After the glacier retreated and released the lake the river carved out most of those deposits, leaving the former delta “hanging” approximately 650 ft (200 m) above the current valley floor.[18]


The sand portion of this deposit has very little clay or “fines” to cement it together, so is very weak structurally. It is also sensitive to accumulations of water, as this increases the internal “pore” pressure, which contributes to failure. For the most part water infiltrating from the surface flows right through, except at the contact with the less permeable clay, where the water accumulates and forms a zone of weakness.[19] Such variations in pore pressure and water flux are one of the primary factors leading to slope failure, the other primary factor being erosion of the base of the slope when the river impinges on it as it meanders across the valley.[20] 


These conditions have created an extensive series of landslide complexes on both sides of the valley. Additionally, the history of multiple slides at this particular location, which lies across the inferred location of one of the strands of the Darrington—Devils Mountain Fault, and possibly the conjunction with the Larch Lake fault as well may be due to seismic fracturing and uplift of the underlying rock.[21] Additional benches on the margin of Whitman Bench are due to deep-seated slumping of large blocks, which also creates planes of weakness for future slippage and channels for water infiltration.[22]


This most recent disaster has resurrected the kind of debate that followed the 2006 slide about whether it is safe to eventually allow any residential rebuilding in the area. For the moment officials are more focused on finding alternative housing for those displaced by the current slide and recovering the remains of those who perished.

Oso Slide Search Status

41  Fatalities identified

  0  Fatalities pending identification


41  Total Victims Found To Date  

 2  Still Missing  



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President Obama Declares Oso Landslide A Major Disaster


President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster for damage caused by a deadly landslide in Washington state. The declaration makes programs available to help individuals and businesses affected by the March 22 slide that killed more than two dozen people.


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that the declaration also provides help for debris removal and emergency measures such as barricades, sand bags and safety personnel.


In asking for more federal assistance, Inslee said in his request Monday that about 30 families need help with housing and other needs. Inslee has said estimated financial losses have reached $10 million.


During a Wednesday evening news conference, Snohomish County officials urged anyone who was impacted by the slide to register for assistance with FEMA.


Individuals and families are urged to call FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to get information about federal assistance. Pennington said assistance for individuals and families includes, but is not limited to, housing assistance, disaster unemployment programs and funeral expenses.  Pennington also said three FEMA disaster recovery centers will be set up – one in Arlington, Darrington and Oso – where people can also walk-in for help.

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From Wikipedia:

On Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 10:37 a.m. local time, a major mudslide occurred 4 miles (6.4 km) east of Oso, Washington, United States, when a portion of an unstable hillside known as the “Hazel Landslide”[4] collapsed, sending mud and debris across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and onto the adjacent river valley, covering an area of approximately 1 square mile (2.6 km2).


Geological Context

Active earth movement at the Hazel Landslide dates back to at least 1937.[4] Somewhat confusingly, the geologic feature itself is called the Hazel Landslide, [4] but active slide events on the geologic feature are also called landslides, with the latest event being dubbed the “Oso landslide” by the popular press [6]

The “Oso landslide” of 2014 occurred at the southeastern edge of Whitman Bench, a terrace about 800 ft (240 m) above the valley floor, consisting of gravel and sand deposited during the last glaciation.[13



The seismic signals (ground vibrations) generated by the Oso landslide were recorded at several regional seismic stations, and analyzed by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). The main event began 10:37:22 am local time (PDT; 17:37:22 UTC) and lasted about 2.5 minutes.

This is believed to the initial collapse of the material previously disturbed and weakened by the 2006 slide; this is the slide that impacted the neighborhood below.

Another large slide occurred at 10:41:53 PDT; this may have been the collapse of the slope above the 2006 slide area that created the scarp now visible at the top of the slide area. Additional events, most likely smaller landslides breaking off the headscarp, continued for several hours. The last notable signal came 14:10:15.[21]


Possible Precursors

Data collected by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) shows a Magnitude 1.1 earthquake in the vicinity of the Oso landslide (about 2 ±0.8 km to the northeast), at a depth of 3.9 ±1.9 km, twelve days earlier on March 10th.[22] This is the quake which Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington speculated might have triggered this landslide.[23]

Careful examination of the records from the nearest seismic station, about 7 mi (11 km) to the southwest, found many very small events that started around 8 am and stopped in the late afternoon. However, they were not detected at the next nearest seismic station. They are also seen in the days before and after the slide, but only during daylight hours. They are believed to be related to some kind of human activity. No other indications of possible precursors have been found.[24]



Known activity at this specific site includes the following:[26]


  • 1937: aerial photographs show active landsliding.


  • 1951: mudflow from a side channel briefly blocked the river.


  • 1952: movement of large, intact blocks, leaving headscarps 70 ft (21 m) high. Later photographs show persistent activity through the next decade.


  • 1967 January: slump of a large block and accompanying mud flows push the river channel about 700 ft (210 m) south. This protects the toe from erosion, activity is minor for about two decades.


  • 1988 November: erosion of the toe leads to another slide, and the river is again moved south, but not as far as in 1967.


  • 2006: large slide blocks the river, new channel is cut to alleviate flooding.
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