Sitka landslide is ‘déjà vu’ for battalion chief

Seattle battalion chief Thomas Richardson. Despite his long hours on the Oso event he says he’s no expert. “No one is prepared for this kind of slide.” (Photo by Robert Woolsey/KCAW)
Seattle battalion chief Thomas Richardson. Despite his long hours on the Oso event he says he’s no expert. “No one is prepared for this kind of slide.” (Photo by Robert Woolsey/KCAW)

Among all the expertise imported by Sitka to aid in the recovery operation at the Kramer Avenue slide, one man finds this disaster hits very close to home.

Thomas Richardson is a battalion chief with the Seattle Fire Department. Seventeen months ago he stood over a similar scene in Oso, Washington.

“Yeah, it’s similar. Déjà vu, in fact. Both the techniques that they’re using and the conditions that they’re encountering are almost identical to what we had. Logs, broken trees, a mudflow in the middle with near quicksand-like conditions. And the techniques to do the searches are very similar to what we’ve done.”

The Oso slide was much larger. It covered about a square mile. In all, 43 people lost their lives in that event in March 2014.

Richardson does not consider himself an expert in landslide recovery. He says the Seattle Fire Department just applied the skills they had to a difficult situation. And Sitka is doing the same thing.

“Most people don’t have a lot of experience. We didn’t have any experience responding to landslides. We’ve had our usual small slides in the city that we’ve responded to in the past, that did damage to structures but didn’t entrap any people. Oso was by far the biggest one that any of us had ever encountered.”

Richardson will be in Sitka for two days while the clearing work continues. He’ll be observing the use of a special pump being flown in by the Coast Guard that is used for the removal of mud.

KCAW - Sitka

KCAW is our partner station in Sitka. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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