Real Estate & Property Law

Record mudslide that killed 43 exacerbated by rain, logging and lack of monitoring, says report

In Australia or Hong Kong, developers and local government are required to take action, such as monitoring, to reduce the risk of landslides, says a new report by an investigative agency known as GEER.

But less restrictive land-use rules apply in the U.S., which may have contributed to the scope of a massive mudslide that killed 43 people in Washington state earlier this year, the highest landslide death toll ever in the U.S., experts say. The scientists who wrote the federally funded Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance report also pointed to rain, logging and a history of at least 15 big landslides in the area dating back as far as 6,000 years as other potentially contributing factors, the Seattle Times (reg. req.) reports.

Rain was first and foremost a factor, the report says, estimating that 30 inches fell in the first three weeks of March, compared to an average of six inches for the entire month. It isn’t clear to what extent other factors may have played a role in the disaster, individuals who worked on the report told the newspaper.

“What it shows is that these are naturally very unstable slopes,” said David Montgomery, a University of Washington geomorphologist, of the report. “And where would you expect the effects of forest practices—if there are any—to be most manifest? On the least stable slopes.”

Snohomish County and the state are expected to face litigation over the slide, and initial claims argue that residents weren’t warned of the slide dangers.

Related coverage: “Differing state and local regulations govern building in risky areas” “Those who lost homes in massive Wash. mudslide may still owe mortgage payments”

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