Brandi N. Montreuil/Tulalip News
Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon presents a donation for $100,000 to Chuck Morrison, regional executive director of the Snohomish County chapter of the American Red Cross. The donation will help assist with shelter, food and basic needs for the survivors and families devastated by the landslide in Oso, Washington. Tulalip also donated $50,000 to a victims assistance fund administered by a local hospital foundation.

Tribes Assist Landslide Relief Effort With Personnel, Donations and Prayers

Richard Walker

'We Knew the Hillside Was Unstable'

The First Peoples of this region—Sauk-Suiattle to the east of the landslide area, and Stillaguamish and Tulalip to the west—have long viewed the earth here as a living thing. Derek Marks, manager of Timber, Fish and Wildlife for the Tulalip Tribes, said that 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, the slide area was a lakebed, the river blocked by ice. As the glacier receded, it left behind an outwash of fine-texture sand and silt common to lake beds. This is the makeup of the hill that slid March 22.

Indigenous knowledge played a part in the Tulalip Tribes’ opposition to logging above the slide area in the 1980s. Federal and Tribal reports identified that portion of hillside as a slide risk, and ancient landslides are evident elsewhere in the area.

Over the years, a bend in the Stillaguamish River slowly destabilized the toe of the hill, Marks said, and the hillside gave way in 2006. There were no injuries, but it turned out to be a harbinger of what was to come.

The Tulalip Tribes and the Stillaguamish Tribe installed a log revetment to keep the river from chewing away at the deposits that had filled in at the toe of the hill. The raw face of the hill re-vegetated itself with fast-growing alder, willow and grasses. Chinook salmon began spawning again along that stretch of the river.

“But we still knew [the hill] was unstable,” Marks said.

In Oso, the Stillaguamish River flows toward the Salish Sea from an elevation of 260 feet, Marks said. The top of the hill is at 800-feet elevation.

At 11 a.m. on March 22, eight years after the first slide, the hill again calved, sending a tsunami of sediment over the river and into the Steelhead Drive neighborhood of an estimated 180 residents, and turning an estimated 49 homes and outbuildings into a debris field of one square mile.

Snohomish County Fire Chief Travis Hots said March 25 that when the rescue operation began, he imagined an individual, perhaps, being in a car when the slide occurred, and rescue workers simply digging the vehicle out and freeing the person inside. What rescue workers found showed the sheer force and magnitude of the slide.

“We are finding vehicles that are twisted and torn up into pieces,” he said.


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