'Awful tragedy' prompts meeting on mudslide hazards

'Awful tragedy' prompts meeting on mudslide hazards
Ben Woodward looks up at a sign commemorating the moment of the Oso mudslide. The wooden memorial was attached to a towering spruce tree, one of the few in the debris field left standing after the disaster. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Officials gathered Monday to discuss the history and current rules surrounding landslide hazards in Washington state following the mudslide that killed 41 people and left two missing nearly two months ago.

The agenda for the all-day Department of Natural Resources hearing included an overview of the March 22 slide that raced across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and buried dozens of homes in Oso, the riverfront community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

No actions or rule changes were expected after the hearing on the Capitol campus, though officials will take public testimony later in the day.

Aaron Everett, chairman of the forest practices board, said the meeting is meant to "review and take stock of our scientific knowledge of landslide hazards."

"We do it against the context of an awful tragedy," he said. "It makes our work that much more important."

Officials throughout the day heard about the history of landslides in the state, previous responses to the disasters and forest practices in place now.

The hillside that collapsed above Oso was roughly 600 feet high and scattered debris nearly a mile from the base of the hill.

Jonathan Godt, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said Monday that while rains during the time likely contributed to the slide, the definitive answer to what caused it is "a question that may not be answerable in a satisfactory way."

"Because the slide has, in essence, done its thing," he said. "So from an empirical standpoint you can't recover data prior to the landslide occurring."