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April 15, 2014 3:00 PM, EDT
Washington Mudslide Buried Critical Timber Truck Route
WSDOT/Flickr

Washington state transportation officials last week began a series of meetings on how to recover or replace the highway lost in the massive March 22 mudslide in Oso that killed 36 people and left seven missing.

A milelong stretch of state Route 530, a critical highway for the timber industry and the small communities along it, is buried under tons of mud and debris.

“We’re talking about 15,000 dump truck loads of material on just the highway area,” department spokesman Travis Phelps said.

President Obama is scheduled to visit the site April 22.

“Because there’s that big personal loss out there, we need to engage the community first before we just go full bore,” he said, adding that crews must move slowly as they also are working to recover human remains.

Part of a mountain slid into a valley a mile away and dammed up the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which so dramatically altered the landscape, Phelps said, that engineers don’t know if the highway can even be rebuilt in the same spot.

State engineers and other officials have scheduled three meetings this week in the communities along Route 530, Darrington, Oso and Arlington, to seek input from residents and businesses.