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Geologist: Fatal landslide in Washington a recurring event

AP Rick Wilking Pool

Last Saturday morning, 50 homes were inundated by a mountainside. In seconds, it washed across the Stillaguamish River, rumbled across Highway 530, and splintered houses. As you read these words, crews of volunteers and teams of trained experts with dogs and equipment are digging for neighbors, family and friends.

Several people have been recovered, including Gary “Mac” McPherson. At 78, Mac was home and comfortable with his wife Linda at his side in comfy matching chairs when the mountain sloughed off a chunk the size of the wet concrete in Grand Coulee Dam and shattered his life. Like a town-sized blender, the rumbling mass of rock and mud, trees and everything in the way tumbled and tossed and buried him, and all he had was a small stick in his hand.

Mac dug. With his stick he dug and dug until a tiny light opened up, and he jammed his tiny stick up into his dug-out hole and up into the air and shook and shook and waved and waved his stick. A rescuer spotted the stick. Mac survived. Linda did not.

Today, 5 days later, half the town is missing and presumed dead. 90 people.

Rescuers and volunteers have uncovered cars crushed flat and victims with their clothes ripped off by the force of the torrential flows. Surviving witnesses describe the splitting of houses and the disappearance of loved ones.

As science explains the desperate situation today, the mountain has been sloughing here for quite some time. According to Dr. Daniel Miller of Earth Systems Institute of Ballard, Washington, who performed the analysis of the shifting mountain for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999, this flowing of mountainside is not a new phenomenon, though clear-cutting and intense rains may have exacerbated an already shaky mass.

This video report showcases the history of the slide area for at least several decades, yet the most telling detail in this short history is the human urge to rebuild right next to the road alongside the river that eats away at the mountain, time after time.

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