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Landslide Debris Field Has To Be Approached As Hazmat Scene

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
Homes destroyed by the Oso landslide are barely recognizable as such.

In a clearing on a hillside above one side of the mudflow, searchers in all sorts of uniforms and bright safety vests are picking through the crushed and barely recognizable remains of homes.

Even from a distance, you know it is dirty work.

But that’s not all. Battalion chief Steve Mason says the debris field is considered a hazmat scene. Searchers thoroughly hose off at the end of each day.

“Of course, because everybody’s septic system and other personal items are strewn throughout, we make sure they are well-cleaned. We don’t want them to take anything away with them.”

Something else Mason points out are big “tinfoil” reflectors strung in some trees above where the landslide started. The battalion chief says searchers down below periodically look up to see if the shiny foil is in the same spot.

They’re mindful that the deadly hillside could slump again.

Emergency managers are planning to rotate in fresh search crews to the scene. 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.