The fatal mudslide in Washington: What was it like?

It was a “tangled sludge,” a “quicksand” that brought “half the mountain down,” killing at least eight people.

“I heard this roar, and it was huge. I never heard anything like that,” Robin Youngblood said. “I looked out the window, and I saw this huge wall of mud – must have been 20 feet tall. We went moving, and we were tumbled. I had a mouth full of mud, and nose full of it. We were under everything, and we had to dig our way out.”

It “felt like an earthquake,” Kevin Tollenaar said. “Next thing you know the house moved. You’re going from about zero to 20 miles an hour, in about half a second.”

That’s how survivors described the massive mudslide that came crashing down on them, dragging trees and branches and parts of houses as it moved through rural northwestern Washington state on Saturday morning. Experts believe it was the result of recent heavy rains that made the ground unstable.

It was “a big wall of mud and debris” that buried about one square mile of State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. They say a whole side of a hill was torn from the earth.

Those who were caught in the middle of the devastating landslide say it started with a “crack.”


Emergency workers assisting at the scene of a fatal mudslide in Oso, Washington, USA, 22 March 2014. (EPA/WASHINGTON STATE PATROL )

Youngblood, 63, was sitting in her living room with a friend on Saturday morning when she heard the 2,000-foot-high hill break, KIRO-TV reported. She looked out her window and saw the mud slide across the Stillaguamish River toward her house on the opposite bank. It blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish, causing the water upstream to rise about 10-12 inches per 30 minutes and creating another hazard: flooding.

Youngblood climbed on top of her clothes dryer and her friend got on top of the dishwasher. “We started yelling for help,” she told the Seattle Times. “Three kids came running.” She and her friend waited about an hour before they were airlifted by helicopter to a road where ambulances were waiting.


Robin Youngblood survived the landslide that destroyed her house next to the North Fork of the Stillaguamish river Saturday, March 22, 2014. She is holding the only item that survived the disaster, a painting of a Cherokee warrior that was knocked from the wall and muddied. “It saved us.” she said. (Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times/AP )

Saturday night, Youngblood wrote a note on her Facebook page from Cascade Valley Hospital:

“To all my family and friends in many parts of the world – we’re all OK. We don’t have a home at present, its only matchsticks, the landslide took it out with Jetty and I inside. It was a wild ride. We were airlifted out by helicopter after about an hour. The only thing that survived besides us is a painting called Night Warrior. Spirit sent him to protect us. We’re incredibly grateful to be alive! They are still searching for many of our valley neighbors. Please say prayers for us all. I’m sure we’ll be on the news – half the mountain across the river came down. Someday I’ll tell the story. Right now, I’m just grateful to have dry clothes and an achy body.”

Another, waiting at Cascade Valley Hospital, said her niece’s 6-month-old son was flown to Harborview Medical Center. Marla Skaglund, who was waiting there, told KIRO-TV she saw a man rescue the baby. She said she heard someone scream for help when the mud and debris spilled across state Route 530:

“I could hear it, and he just took off. He said, ‘I’m going, there’s somebody out there,’ and they tried to stop him and he said, ‘No. There’s somebody trapped out there,’ and he came back out with the baby.”

Even folks outside the direct path of the mudslide saw the impact. And some of them just missed it.

Paulo Falcao de Oliveira told the Daily Herald he was driving his SUV up Highway 530 when he saw the mudslide hit, watching mud, rocks, trees and other debris engulf the road and other vehicles:

“I was three cars back, and I saw a truck with a boat. After that, I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds.”

De Oliveira later told NBC News:

“I’m just in shock. I’m alive now because of the 10, 20, 30 seconds – because of the green van that was in front of me and I didn’t pass them. I’m here now.”

Saturday night, displaced victims found shelter a Red Cross setup at the Arlington school. Dane Williams, 30, was there, where people were “pretty distraught.” He said: “It makes me want to cry.”


Claire Logan, at right, carries supplies to help set up an evacuation center at Post Middle School in Arlington to assist those impacted by the landslide on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River on Saturday in Arlington, Wash. (Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times/AP)

Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis said on Sunday crews were able to get out to the area after geologists flew over in a helicopter and determined it was safe to search for survivors.

“We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today.”

But there had been sounds of life earlier. Rescuers said they heard voices coming from the mud.

The LA Times reported:

“Some firefighters waded into a square-mile slurry of mud and became stuck up to their armpits, officials said, needing to be pulled out by rope.”

Using the hashtag #530slide, victims’ families took to Twitter over the weekend, asking for help to find their loved ones. As of Sunday, at least 18 were still missing.

 

 

 

“Mother Nature holds the cards here,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters Sunday afternoon, according to the Times. “It’s just unrelenting and awesome. There really is no stick standing in the path of the slide.”

Travis said the search would resume at dawn on Monday.


Sources: Snohomish County government, Google maps. Graphic: Tobey – The Washington Post.
Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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