The Steelhead Haven neighborhood was stirring to life when the hillside above it collapsed. It was 10:37 a.m., March 22. The neighborhood vanished 60 seconds later, consumed by the thunderous wall of earth that jumped the Stillaguamish River and tore through Steelhead Haven at 60 mph.
Some homes exploded. Others were ripped from their foundation only to be swallowed in a sea of churning mud. It would be weeks before authorities could confirm that 43 men, women and children had perished in what was one of the worst natural disasters in state history.
In the hours that followed, The Seattle Times broke story after story using our breaking news blog and social media. Our website, Seattletimes.com, Twitter feed and Facebook page gave the region the most up-to-the minute information available.
Because of Oso’s mountainous location in northwest Washington, we immediately sent a photographer up in a helicopter. Our aerial images on Seattletimes.com helped the public understand the gravity of the search and rescue operation. The once idyllic neighborhood of year-around residents and riverfront cabins had been consumed by 10 million cubic yards of debris.
The magnitude of this event became evident as our photographers and reporters began transmitting images, raw video, blog posts and tweets from an area that later would be called “the pile.”
Reporting from the scene was an immediate challenge. The volunteer first-responders were unable to say how many homes had been swallowed up, or how many people were dead or missing.
Knowing the likelihood of mass casualties, we built an interactive graphic in iterative steps showing those who had died and, with our readers’ help, those missing.
As the story unfolded our digital team quickly experimented, going border to border on our homepage with an interactive “slider” using aerial photography and mapping. By pulling the bar back and forth, readers could see before and after images of Steelhead Haven.
To help make sense of the disaster, our graphic artists and data editor started mapping the area, adding overlays showing housing structures and the slide path. Later, we used Esri and a county database of parcels and homeownership. Photos of the dead and missing were added.
Our watchdog coverage of the landslide, which drew national praise, revealed for the first time what was previously known of the hazards of the area. We took full advantage of the web in telling those stories using immersive design, added documentation and visuals.
Our nonstop online coverage included video, photo galleries, USGS computer simulations, laser maps of known slide risks and logging maps. We told readers how they could help survivors, and we told the stories of survival and heartbreak. A week after the slide we published an immersive narrative of what happened that day as told by survivors, rescuers, and friends and family of the dead and missing. It was separately and artfully designed for the web. Thirty-two newsroom staffers contributed to the story.