More than a week after the massive landslide in Oso, Washington relatives and search crews are still digging. They are no longer looking for survivors, though you can see the pain of not-yet-faded hope on their faces and hear the words "rescue and recovery" still lingering on their lips. Even so, they keep digging. For lost relatives, pets, pieces of home, or just to have something to do, a kind of agency in the face of natural happenstance. There is little being found in the big dig. Instead, events like these remind us of just how very small we are in comparison to the larger natural world, that no amount of engineering will ever really purchase us the control of nature.
What is emerging though, is a picture of the last moments, an elderly couple reading the paper on the couch before having their home swept 100 feet towards the river, the husband digging out to safety, but unable to reach his wife, contractors out of Seattle, just working for a day, that never returned home. And a landslide with its own character, with it's own story to tell. As data is compiles and evaluated the slide itself takes shape. An example; seismic data shows ground movement occurring in two distinct phases occurring within minutes of each other, two failures and two distinct deposits that are visible in the aerial photographs occurring within five minutes of one another.
Five minutes between the first event and the second. I wonder about those minutes, the things that may have transpired. In time, we will get a picture of those minutes too, for whatever it is worth. For now, they dig.
To read more about the two-phase seismic signal from the landslide: