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‘It’s gone.’ Community copes with deadly mudslide

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This March 23, 2014 photo, made available by the Washington State Dept of Transportation shows a view of the damage from Saturday’s mudslide near Oso, Wash. At least eight people were killed in the 1-square-mile slide that hit in a rural area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle on Saturday. Several people also were critically injured, and about 30 homes were destroyed. (AP Photo/Washington State Dept of Transportation)

This March 23, 2014 photo, made available by the Washington State Dept of Transportation shows a view of the damage from Saturday’s mudslide near Oso, Wash. At least eight people were killed in the 1-square-mile slide that hit in a rural area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle on Saturday. Several people also were critically injured, and about 30 homes were destroyed. (AP Photo/Washington State Dept of Transportation)

Steve Skaglund walks across the rubble on the east side of Saturday’s fatal mudslide near Oso, Wash., Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo /The Herald, Genna Martin)

Brian Anderson, left, and Coby Young search through the wreckage of a home belonging to the Kuntz family Sunday, March 23, 2014, near Oso, Wash. The entire Kuntz family was at a baseball game Saturday morning when a fatal mudslide swept through the area. The family returned Sunday to search through what remained. (AP Photo /The Herald, Genna Martin)

This March 23, 2014 photo, made available by the Washington State Dept of Transportation shows a view of the damage from Saturday’s mudslide in Oso, Wash. At least eight people were killed in the 1-square-mile slide that hit in a rural area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle on Saturday. Several people also were critically injured, and about 30 homes were destroyed. (AP Photo/Washington State Dept of Transportation)

This March 23, 2014 photo, made available by the Washington State Dept of Transportation shows a view of the damage from Saturday’s mudslide near Oso, Wash. At least eight people were killed in the 1-square-mile slide that hit in a rural area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle on Saturday. Several people also were critically injured, and about 30 homes were destroyed. (AP Photo/Washington State Dept of Transportation)

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OSO, Wash. (AP) — First there was a “whoosh.” Elaine Young said she thought it might be a chimney fire, a rush of air that lasted about 45 seconds. But when she stepped outside there was ominous silence. Something felt very, very wrong.

And then she saw it. Behind the house, a suffocating wall of heavy mud had crashed through the neighborhood.

Dark and sticky, the mile-long flow Saturday heaved houses off their foundations, toppled trees and left a gaping cavity on what had been a tree-covered hillside. In the frantic rescue, searchers spotted mud-covered survivors by the whites of their waving palms.

Now, days into the search, the scale of the mudslide’s devastation in a rural village north of Seattle is becoming apparent. At least 14 people are confirmed dead, dozens more are thought to be unaccounted for or missing, and about 30 homes are destroyed.

“We found a guy right here,” shouted a rescuer Monday afternoon behind Young’s home, after a golden retriever search dog found a corpse pinned under a pile of fallen trees. Searchers put a bag over the body, tied an orange ribbon on a branch to mark the site, and the crew moved on.

It had been stormy for weeks, but warm sunshine offered a false sense of peace Saturday morning as weekend visitors settled into their vacation homes and locals slept in. Then came “a giant slump,” said David Montgomery, an earth and space sciences professor at the University of Washington, describing the deep-seated slide resulting from long-term, heavy rainfall.

A scientist who documented the landslide conditions on the hillside that buckled had warned in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure,” The Seattle Times reported late Monday.

That report was written by geomorphologist Daniel J. Miller and his wife, Lynne Rodgers Miller, The Times said (http://is.gd/yodBQx). “We’ve known it would happen at some point,” Daniel Miller told the newspaper.

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Public Works Director Steve Thomsen said Monday night they were not aware of the 1999 report. “A slide of this magnitude is very difficult to predict,” Thomsen told The Times. “There was no indication, no indication at all.”

Within hours of the mudslide, emergency crews were searching for life in a post-apocalyptic scene, dodging chunks of splintered birch trunks, half-buried pickup trucks and growing pools of water from the now-blocked Stillaguamish River.

Ed Hrivnak, who was co-piloting an aircraft that was first to arrive at the scene, said a lot of the houses weren’t buried. When they got hit, “the houses exploded.” He said cars were crushed into little pieces, their tires the only signs that they had been vehicles.

He said he saw people so thoroughly covered in mud that searchers could only spot them by the whites of their waving palms. His helicopter rescued eight people, including a 4-year-old boy, who was up to his knees in concretelike compressed mud.

The mud was so sticky, the rescuers were worried about getting stuck so the helicopter hovered about a foot away and the crew chief tried to pull him out. “He was suctioned in that mud so much that his pants came off,” Hrivnak said.

The boy was taken to a hospital and was reunited with his mom. Hrivnak said the boy’s father and three siblings are still missing.

Friends and families immediately launched their own rescue missions.

Elaine and her husband, Don Young, picking their way through the devastation, heard tapping, a steady beat. They got closer and realized it was coming from their neighbors’ buckled home.

Trapped in an air pocket, Gary “Mac” McPherson, 78, was banging away for help with a loose stick. The Youngs managed to pull him out, but family members

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