Our hearts go out to the folks searching for loved ones in the river of mud and debris that hit the Washington State village of Oso. More than 100 may be dead. Residents are reeling from the losses. Even though they know their loved ones probably are buried under 30 to 40 feet of mud, torn-up trees and wrecked buildings, they have no idea how to begin looking for remains. The slide area covers about a square mile. And it is still raining, making the danger of another slide ominous.
To people who have never been in a mudslide, it is hard to fathom the devastation. But if one is able to see the aftermath of such a disaster, one would know a mudslide ranks up there with floods and earthquakes for sheer destructive potential. Mrs. Doud and I once lived in Washington State, a drive of an hour and a half or so from Oso, and we saw how mudflows can change a countryside.
About 4,500 years ago, a massive lahar, or volcanic mudslide, broke loose from the west side of Mount Rainier and flowed from that picturesque peak all the way into Puget Sound. That’s a distance of 90 miles. That lahar is known today as the Osceola Mudflow. In some parts, it was 100 feet thick and miles wide. Many towns and cities of the region are partially or wholly built on it.
Near the city of Burlington, where we lived for a few years, a mudslide occurred in the late 1980s that was shocking in its devastation. After a period of heavy rain, a hillside suddenly sloughed off one Sunday into a little valley. In that valley was a calf-raising business that had hundreds of individual dairy calf stalls in which heifers were being raised. The mud roared in, around and over those stalls. People who lived nearby saw it happen.
Disregarding their own safety, they hurried to the site, waded sometimes shoulder-deep into the mud and debris and began lifting bawling calves over their heads and carrying them to safety. Men carried calves the whole night, working through exhaustion to save the terrified animals. Women held flashlights and brought food and water for men and calves alike. All pitched in to get the calves cleaned up. Veterinarians came from neighboring communities to administer care. It was a phenomenal community effort.
In the end, some calves were lost, but most were saved. The last time we drove past there, only the tops of the stalls were visible. The rest was a desolate field of mud. Heaven be with those poor people of Oso, who are dealing with a tragedy far greater with a frustration barely imaginable.