Wellington, Washington avalanche

The Wellington avalanche was the worst avalanche, measured in terms of lives lost, in the history of the United States.

For nine days at the end of February 1910, the little town of Wellington, Washington was assailed by a terrible blizzard. Wellington was a Great Northern Railway stop high in the Cascades, on the west side of the first Cascade Tunnel, under Stevens Pass. As much as a foot of snow fell every hour, and, on the worst day, eleven feet (335 cm) of snow fell. Two trains - a passenger train and a mail train, both bound from Spokane to Seattle - were trapped in the depot. Snow plows were present at Wellington and others were sent to help, but they could not penetrate the snow accumulations and repeated avalanches along the stretch of tracks between Scenic and Leavenworth.

Late on February 28, the snow stopped and was replaced by rain and a warm wind. Just after 1 a.m. on March 1, a slab of snow broke loose from the side of Windy Mountain in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. A ten-foot wall of snow, half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, headed for the town. A massive forest fire had recently ravaged the slopes above the town, leaving very little to impede the avalanche.

The avalanche missed the Bailets Hotel (which also housed the town's general store and post office), but hit the railroad depot. Most of the passengers and crew were asleep aboard their trains. The impact threw the trains 150 feet downhill and into the Tye River valley. Ninety-six people were killed, of whom 35 were passengers, 58 were Great Northern employees on the trains, and three were railroad employees in the depot. Twenty-three passengers survived; they were pulled from the wreckage by railroad employees who immediately rushed from the hotel and other buildings where they had been staying. The work was soon abandoned, and not until 21 weeks later - in late July - was it possible to retrieve the last of the bodies.

Wellington was quietly renamed Tye in October, 1910 because of the unpleasant associations of the old name. In the same month, the Great Northern Railroad began construction of a concrete snow shed to shelter the depot. The depot was closed when the second Cascade Tunnel came into use in 1929. The town was abandoned and eventually burned. However the old track and snow sheds are still there today and have been preserved in the Iron Goat Trail parkland, which is easily accessible from U.S. Highway 2 at Stevens Pass (Scenic, WA), east of Everett.

External links

* [http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5127 Train disaster at Wellington kills 96 on March 1, 1910.] Essay at HistoryLink.org
* [http://home1.gte.net/mvmmvm/index.html Contemporary photographs]
* [http://www.irongoat.org Iron Goat Trail website]
* [http://www.whitecascade.com The White Cascade (book about the avalanche) website]

References

*Martin Burwash, "Cascade Division: A Pictorial Essay of the Burlington Northern and Milwaukee Road in the Washington Cascades", Fox Publications, 1995
*Lee Davis, "Encyclopedia of Natural Disasters", Headline, 1992
*Gary Krist, "The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche", Holt, 2007


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