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Oso landslide, deadliest in US history, was 10 years ago

Forty-three people were killed on March 22, 2014, when the hillside above the Steelhead Haven neighborhood collapsed, wiping out state Route 530, homes and cars.

OSO, Wash. — Ten years ago, the deadliest landslide in U.S. history struck the small town of Oso, Washington.

Forty-three people were killed on March 22, 2014, when the hillside above the Steelhead Haven neighborhood in Snohomish County collapsed, wiping out state Route 530, homes and cars.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in the close-knit community of Oso when the hillside gave way.

The community had seen a record-breaking start to the year with twice the average rainfall falling in February and March. But on March 22, 2014, spring was in the air. 

At 10:37 a.m., a landslide changed that community forever. A rain-soaked hillside near Oso collapsed, sending around 18 million tons of sand, till and clay into the community of Steelhead Haven, destroying more than 30 homes. 

The call initially came in for a roof in the middle of the road, according to Oso Fire Chief Willie Harper. As far as Harper could tell at the time, it didn’t seem like a big call. 

“We had no idea the spread of it or the depth and the magnitude,” Harper said. 

The slide caused a square mile-wide debris field that was anywhere from 20 to 80 feet deep. it also caused a blockage on the North Fork Stillaguamish River and covered a portion of SR 530, closing it for more than two months.

Interactive timeline: Oso landslide response and impact

Around an hour after the slide, the first aircraft to arrive at the scene was SnoHawk 10, which was diverted from training. The helicopter crew was joined by the crew of the SnoHawk 1, which is called in for air management and assessment of size and damage.

Harper recalled the moment he realized how large the landslide was. 

“The other guy, firefighter, that was with me crawled up on top of some trees,” Harper said. “And I said, ‘What do you see out there?’ He goes, ‘Nothing.’ Like what do you mean nothing? What about the houses or the highway? He goes, ‘Nothing.'”

The first survivor was transferred to the hospital in critical condition at 1 p.m. Emergency responders would go on to rescue 14 people. At 4:36 p.m., officials reported the initial death toll was four, while search efforts continued on the ground and in the air.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency that evening and hundreds of responders from multiple agencies descended to the area to aid in the continued search and rescue efforts.

Inslee requested a Federal Emergency Declaration, which then-President Barack Obama granted on April 3. Obama visited the slide on April 22 and met with officials for a flyover and met with survivors and the families of victims.

The formal search for victims ended on April 28 with 41 of the 43 victims being recovered. The 42nd victim, Steven Hadaway, was recovered on May 22 and the final victim, Molly Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge, was recovered July 22.

Follow coverage of the Oso landslide 10 years later throughout the week of March 18-22 and tune in to a 30-minute special on KING 5 and KING 5+ on March 22 at 7 p.m. 

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