Widow seeks millions after deadly Wash. mudslide

Widow seeks millions after deadly Wash. mudslide
Search and Rescue personnel continue the search for bodies buried in mud at the landslide in Oso, Wash.
EVERETT, Wash. (AP) - A woman whose husband died in the deadly Washington state mudslide has filed claims seeking a total of $3.5 million from Washington state and Snohomish County, her lawyer said Friday.

Deborah Durnell, 50, wants to learn exactly why a hillside gave way and what government officials knew about risks to those living below in the small community of Oso, 55 miles northeast of Seattle, lawyer Corrie Yackulic said.

Thomas Durnell, a 65-year-old retired carpenter, is among 39 people known to have died in the March 22 slide, the Daily Herald of Everett reported (http://is.gd/bZ3jty). Another four people are missing.

The claims seek $3.5 million from the state and county. The newspaper described them as the first formal mudslide damage claims against area governments.

Deborah Durnell hopes to learn enough to spare others, Yackulic said.

"She's real clear: 'I need to channel my grief in a productive way,'" she said of her client.

County property records show the Durnells bought their home in 2011 on Steelhead Drive along the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. They were unaware of the history of slides from the hill above, Yackulic said.

"It was a beautiful spot, but if they had any idea about the risk or the history they wouldn't have bought there," she said.

State and county officials say they have just begun their review of the claims.

"The claim has just come in and we're sitting down to evaluate it," said Jason Cummings, the county's chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney.

State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said earlier this week in response to a general question that it's too early to know what caused the mudslide.

"We want to rely on science and scientific studies to ascertain what the causes of the landslide were," he said.

The claim against the state says Goldmark and a former lands commissioner likely have important information.

The claim does not specify what actions by Snohomish County harmed the family. It does list a number of past and current county officials as having potentially important knowledge.

"We have an open mind. 'Who knew what?' is what we are trying to figure out," Yackulic said.