On this day in 1910, two trains are swept into a canyon by an avalanche in Wellington, Washington, killing 96 people. Due to the remote location of the disaster and the risk of further avalanches, efforts to rescue survivors and find the bodies were not completed until several days later.
The Great Northern Railroad’s westbound Spokane Express left for Seattle, Washington, from Spokane on February 23. On February 26, a blizzard in Washington caused high snow drifts in the Cascade Mountains that blocked the rail lines. Despite many workers attempting to clear the tracks, the train was still stuck in Wellington, a small village in King County just past the Stevens Pass, nearly a week later. The area’s telegraph lines had come down in the storm, and there was little passengers or train personnel could do but wait out the storm.
The Wellington train station was located near the base of Windy Mountain, but had no protective cover. On February 28, weather conditions changed, with temperatures dropping and thunderstorms battering the area. In Idaho, several miners died in an avalanche, and flooding imperiled residents of low-lying areas. At 4:20 a.m. the following morning, with approximately 50 passengers and 75 employees of Great Northern Railroad sleeping in the Spokane Express, an avalanche of snow crashed down Windy Mountain, prompted by a combination of rain, lighting and thunder.
Charles Andrews, a rail worker and resident of Wellington who witnessed the disaster, described the scene: White Death moving down the mountainside above the trains. Relentlessly it advanced, exploding, roaring, rumbling, grinding and snapping. The Spokane Express and a mail train were both thrown from the tracks down a nearby gorge 150 feet deep. The Wellington station was wiped away, though the town’s hotel and store were untouched.
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