On July 23, searchers and rescue teams may have discovered the last missing body from the rubble left over from Washington’s devastating 2014 Oso landslide, which made headlines four months ago. Molly Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge, the 44 year-old woman whose body remained undiscovered after the search for missing persons ended in April, is the only unaccounted for victim, and is believed to have perished in the devastating slide. Workers have continued to screen rubble for signs of the missing woman since the search was called off.
Of the discovery, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said in a statement that he was honored to be able to finally return the missing woman, Kris, to her family. The woman’s husband, Navy Commander John Regelbrugge III, also perished in the slide. Scientists and researchers believe that the mud and debris from the landslide crossed the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and destroyed the community of Oso, which is roughly 55 miles northeast of Seattle.
Researchers believe that the landslide in Oso, Washington, where the last of over three dozen previously missing persons was discovered, was caused by heavy rains in March. It is reported that the rainfall exceeded 30 inches. This, combined with the seepage of groundwater and changes in stress and soil on the slope, contributed to the calamitous mudslide. Scientists also suggest that the soil in this region was weakened and unstable due to prior landslides in the area.
A team of seven independent researchers, representing the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association and led by associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Washington, Joseph Wartman, have concluded that the landslide distributed damage in two major stages. First, a rapid mudflow down the side of the mountain recalled a previous mudslide (which researchers report occurred in 2006). This slide, fortified with old deposits which moved hundreds of meters beyond the river, is reportedly responsible for almost all of the destruction the residents of Oso suffered in the slide. The second stage of the disaster occurred when the uppermost section of the slope collapsed, taking with it the mass of the first slide and depositing it 350 feet down and to distances as far as 2,000 feet away. The slide is estimated to have lasted between five and 15 minutes, and it is unknown precisely what factors triggered the slide. The death toll of this large and destructive landslide marks the deadliest slide in U.S. history.
These scientists went on to say that there have been 15 substantial recorded landslides in the river valley over the course of roughly 6,000 years. Slides such as the Oso landslide in Washington have been known to occur every 400 to 1,500 years in this region. In the team’s final report which concluded the investigation into the mudslide, researchers recommended that landslide risks be regularly evaluated, and that communities be updated consistently about the risks of landslide in the area.
Researchers believe that the missing body recently discovered near Washington’s Oso landslide is that of Kris Regelbrugge. If this proves to be true, she will finally be laid to rest, the last of 42 other victims of the slide. Sara Regelbrugge regards the news cautiously, however. The surviving daughter of Kris and John Regelbrugge, Sara claims that her family has been notified at least ten times since the landslide that her mother’s body had been found.
By Mariah Beckman