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Ranchers evacuate livestock from mudslide area

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Washington ranchers have moved their livestock to other sites or higher ground due to the flooding risk after a massive landslide near Oso, Wash. Arlington, Wash., sheep producer Linda Neunzig said her roughly 350 animals are safe, but she's awaiting word on possible flash flooding.

Western Washington ranchers have evacuated their animals as a result of a mudslide that has left 14 people dead and 176 missing.

The March 22 mudslide is believed to have been caused by groundwater saturation from heavy rains, according to The Associated Press. The slide completely covered Washington State Route 530 near Oso, Wash., 55 miles north of Seattle.

According to Snohomish County, the slide is roughly one square mile and up to 15 feet deep in some places.

Agencies are working to connect people with resources to find missing pets and livestock, as well as locations to take missing animals if found. Some local residents are offering their property to house displaced livestocks and pet, posting their information on the county’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

Linda Neunzig, owner of Ninety Farms in Arlington, Wash., and Snohomish County agriculture coordinator, said family and friends helped her evacuate roughly 350 animals on March 22 to higher ground or other farms.

“Every animal we own is off the farm,” she said of the four-hour operation. “We put the word out on Facebook that we were evacuating, and the stock trailers literally just started showing up.”

The landslide did not affect Neunzig’s farm, but if a debris dam breaks, it will create a flash flood.

“The water that comes down could have a significant impact,” Neunzig said. “Nobody knows what it’s going to do. It may be nothing. If it were to break, there would be no time to evacuate that many animals.”

Neunzig said there are other ranches and farm operations in the area. Her neighbors have also evacuated their cattle. She was unsure of the total number of operations or acres impacted.

This is an unusual circumstance, Neunzig said, but she said the farm evacuates during flood events.

“We have approximately 300 sheep,” she said. “They’re short, they don’t swim. We’ve had four 100-year floods in the time that I’ve owned the farm, so we have evacuated them each time. They wouldn’t have a chance.”

Most ewes and lambs are in an indoor riding arena, Neunzig said. There’s nothing left to do but wait, she said.

“We’re in limbo — we won’t know anything until it happens,” she said, noting that expected rain will not be beneficial. “All we can do is hope and pray that if it breaks, we don’t suffer devastation to the farmland. But as far as the animals and people, we’re safe.”

FEMA and emergency rescue crews are dealing with a volatile situation, Neunzig said.

“It’s a wait-and-see game, making sure everybody is prepared (and) following the news,” she said. “We are just assuming this is going to be a non-event, that these are precautionary measures that we have taken.”

Neunzig lost some lambs in the emergency evacuation, and expects ewe milk production to be affected by stress.

Neunzig is still at the house because they will have time to get out if something happens, she said. She is providing updates on her Facebook page.

“We can be out in minutes, but we can’t get that many animals out that fast,” she said. “We won’t put our animals at risk. They won’t come home until we know the risk has subsided.”




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