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Washington landslide leaves many dead

by BRIANNA SICILIANO Photo/Video Editor

A large landslide in the western part of Washington left 24 dead on Saturday, March 22. Rescue workers are still searching for the remaining missing people, but chances of finding more survivors are slim.

Some 90 people remain unaccounted for in the landslide, which buried 49 structures in up to 40 feet of mud in a square mile area.

After a smaller landslide struck the same area in 2006, officials invested millions of dollars to reduce the risk of a similar disaster reoccurring, making local residents feel safe.

“If officials invested millions of dollars to reduce the risks of a similar disaster, and a larger tragedy hit, then obviously this town needs to find new help to repair the major damage and prevent yet another disaster,” said sophomore Danny Nasser.

Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington cited a 2010 Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan, which contains a chapter that points out that the area that was swept away as one of several “hot spots.” Residents knew the area was “landslide-prone,” but this does not mean citizens anticipated an event as disastrous as the landslide that hit on Saturday.

Scores of local, state and federal authorities converged Wednesday in and around the roughly square-mile patch of hell, which is located about an hour northeast of Seattle. Some rescuers used heavy machinery, chainsaws, pumps, and their hands trying to save lives or, at least, bring comfort and conclusions to family members by finding bodies. They were accompanied by rescue and cadaver dogs, along with the coordinated ballet of helicopters in search of any heat source that might indicate a living person or animal.

As Washington’s governor points out, long ago, glaciers “carved a very beautiful state” and left behind portions of earth that are “very, very loose” and very dangerous.

The area affected in the most recent tragedy has been hit before in 1951, 1967, 1988, and 2006. Daniel Miller, a geomorphologist who co-wrote a report that looked into options to reduce sediments from area landslides, said that none of these events resulted in deaths. The most recent disaster did, however, end in damaged housing.

The county had been saturated by “amazing” rains for weeks on end, which made the Washington ground even less stable. Recently, there was a small earthquake that may or may not have shaken things up more.

Many valid questions remain about whether more could, or should, have been done to prevent the landslide itself, or at least prevent humans from being endangered because of it.

“We are going to get to the bottom of this after we do everything possible to rescue people,” Governor Jay Inslee said.

Among the first people hoisted to safety by a helicopter rescue team were two women “caked in mud, head to toe” on what was left of a roof floating on water. One of the women recalled hearing the landslide’s roar, seeing it “racing like 150 mph” toward her house, scrambling for her life as the landslide tore through.

“We were under water … and we had mud in every orifice,” the same woman told CNN. “The house was moving. I just remembered thinking, ‘OK, creator, if this is it, we might as well relax.'”

There were 10 rescues total by air on the day of the landslide by Snohomish County crew, made up of eight civilians plus two exhausted firefighters stuck in no man’s land, not to mention six more rescued using Navy helicopters. An injured civilian was rescued on Tuesday.

Authorities have said that at least seven people have been found injured. One Seattle hospital, Harborview Medical Center, reported Wednesday that five patients were still in its care, including a 22-week-old boy who was critical but “improving,” two men, ages 37 and 81, in serious condition in intensive care, and two others listed in satisfactory condition.

“I hope that a miracle happens and more injured bodies are found,” said junior Giulietta Flaherty.

Unfortunately, the number of dead thus far has far outnumbered those saved.

What do you think this town needs to prevent another landslide?

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