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Wash. county weighed buying imperiled homes

Risk of landslide studied in 2004

SEATTLE — A decade before a colossal landslide buried a Washington community, county officials considered buying people’s houses to protect them from such a disaster.

A 2004 Snohomish County flood-management plan said the cost of buying Oso properties and removing residents from the path of a potential slide ‘‘would be significant, but would remove the risk to human life and structures.’’

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But after weighing several options, the county instead recommended a project to shore up the base of an unstable hillside near the community about 55 miles north of Seattle, according to documents first reported by the Seattle Times.

The county built a huge wall to reduce landslide and flood risks.

It was not enough to hold back the square mile of dirt, sand, and silt that barreled down the hillside March 22, leveling houses and killing at least 30 people.

Some residents and their family members say they knew nothing of the landslide danger or house-buyout proposals.

‘‘There’s never been any document that we’ve seen regarding that,’’ said Irene Kuntz, whose sister Linda McPherson died in the landslide.

Kuntz said her father bought land in the area in 1940, and he ‘‘never was given any notice that it was in danger’’ from landslides. Her son’s house also was destroyed in the slide.

The Darrington woman said she did not know whether they would have taken a buyout if offered.

Geologic reports noted previous landslides in the area and warned of a potential disaster.

In 2004, county officials evaluated three options, including voluntarily buying properties at the base of the hillside that collapsed nearly two weeks ago.

The county recommended building a log wall. While technically feasible, the plan noted, ‘‘stabilizing any large slide such as this is a difficult task.’’

The 1,300-foot wall was built in 2006.

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