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On Saturday, March 22, a mile-wide mudflow devastated Oso, Wash., 55 miles north of Seattle. The massive damage and mounting casualties have rocked the small community between Arlington and Darrington.

Independent Commission To Probe Oso Landslide

John Ryan
Grocery owner Kevin Ashe of Darrington

An independent commission will delve into the deadliest landslide in Washington history. The commission will seek statewide lessons from the Oso landslide, land use in the Oso area before the slide and the emergency response in the days and weeks afterward.

Governor Jay Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said the commission will not try to hold anyone accountable for the 43 deaths in the in the March landslide.

At a press conference on Friday, Lovick declined to say why.

"That's the decision we've made. Is there another question, please?"

Inslee then offered an explanation.

"The judicial system is set up to assign blame and responsibility," he said. "We're confident that system will work. Our job, moving forward, is to try to improve safety."

Dozens of lawsuits are in the works, with at least 38 tort claims already filed over the destruction caused by the slide.

Darrington grocery owner Kevin Ashe said the commission should address who did what wrong.

"We're all taught this as kids: If you make a mistake, own up to it," he said. "I think people are forgiving and we move on. It's only when you make a mistake and it's kind of pushed under the rug, that's when people tend to start to ask questions."

The commission has experts, officials and business leaders from around Washington state.

Ashe said he wished the 12-member commission had at least one person from the Arlington, Darrington and Oso communities that lived through the slide.

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One question Ashe hopes the commission will address is why loggers and other local volunteers, who used their backwoods expertise and machinery to dig victims out of the massive landslide debris, weren't incorporated sooner into the official recovery efforts.

"There's a lot of knowledge out there," Ashe said. "Just because your name doesn't have 'first responder' behind it doesn't mean you don't have the knowledge to help with a rescue effort."

Climate Link

Inslee said the Oso landslide, like the ongoing fires in Okanogan County, were both triggered by extreme weather. "The rainiest March in Washington history and some of the driest conditions we've ever seen early in the fire season," he said.

Inslee said climate change would bring more such weather-related disasters to Washington state.

"We are going to have to become more resilient, more prepared to deal with larger, climate-related problems in our state," Inslee said. "That's just a fact."

Inslee declined to say whether he thought the state was currently doing a good job of keeping the public safe from hazards like landslides and wildfires.

"I don't want to prejudge the answer to that," he said.

The landslide commission is expected to issue a report by Nov. 15 at a cost of $150,000, with the state paying two-thirds of the total.

Year started with KUOW: 2009