News / USA

VOA On the Scene: Waist-deep Muck Challenges Search for Mudslide Victims

Rescue workers make their way through the mud and wreckage left behind by Saturday's mudslide as they look for signs of missing people, in Oso, Washington, March 27, 2014.
Rescue workers make their way through the mud and wreckage left behind by Saturday's mudslide as they look for signs of missing people, in Oso, Washington, March 27, 2014.
Tom Banse
A local fire chief is warning communities around the deadly landslide in northwest Washington state to brace for a jump in the death toll, which currently stands at 17 but with 90 people still unaccounted for. Fresh crews are rotating in to relieve exhausted first responders as the search and recovery mission enters its seventh day. Correspondent Tom Banse had the chance to experience firsthand what’s happening at the place known as “the pile.”

All this week, fire and rescue personnel at the scene of the deadly landslide have expressed a similar sentiment.

“You just can’t fathom what we’re up against out there until you get out there and see the lay of the land," said District Fire Chief Travis Hots. "You can’t look at a photograph and understand it. You can’t even fully understand what we’re up against out there and what has happened even if you watch on TV. It’s unreal.”

I finally got to judge for myself on a carefully controlled media tour to the edge of the landslide.

Steve Mason led the way in his yellow firefighter jacket and battalion chief helmet.  Mason took us to an overlook where we could see the mudflow, a vast, lumpy plain that is almost all grey. Water collects in low spots and splintered tree trunks are scattered all over. From this distance, they look like spilled match sticks. Around the edges of this forbidding debris field are signs of homes and structures that are barely recognizable.

“In some cases, we have houses that are more intact than others," Mason said. "Some of them look like they’ve been put in a blender and dropped on the ground.”
Homes destroyed by the Oso, Washington, landslide are barely recognizable as such, March 27, 2014.. (T. Banse/VOA)Homes destroyed by the Oso, Washington, landslide are barely recognizable as such, March 27, 2014.. (T. Banse/VOA)
The scene reminds me of the aftermath of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

“Well, the earth moved. It’s the same type of analogy, I would say on a smaller scale than [Mount St. Helens]," Mason said. "There were homes in the way and the mountain came down on them.”

In the middle distance, searchers and heavy equipment operators work. They stand out in brightly colored outfits - yellow, orange, blue and a lot of red helmets. I notice they move very slowly.

“It’s kind of like forensic digging," Mason explained. "What we’re doing, you have people around who are watching. They look at the area. They bring the machine in. The machine very gingerly picks up small bites of material. Set it off to the side. People go through that material. People look where the machine has just pulled out the material. If it’s OK, the machine goes back and pulls some more material.”
 
  • Brenda Moe looks on after placing a cross with a yellow ribbon for victims of the Oso, Washington mudslide on her front lawn in Darrington, Washington, March 27, 2014.
  • A searcher walks through a massive pile of debris at the scene of a deadly mudslide in Oso, Washington, March 27, 2014.
  • An excavator is used as search work continues in the mud and debris from a massive mudslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington, March 27, 2014.
  • Robin Youngblood smiles after embracing Snohomish County helicopter crew chief Randy Fay, who helped rescue her after a deadly mudslide in Washington, March 26, 2014.
  • Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Crisp, liaison officer for the Washington National Guard, coordinates the arrival of a search team at the site of the mudslide in Oso, Washington, March 26, 2014.
  • Community members unpack a truckload of donated goods from The Rock Church, Darrington, Washington, March 26, 2014.
  • Jammi Parris, a waitress at the Blue Bird Cafe, paints a yellow ribbon on a window in downtown Arlington, Washington, March 25, 2014.
  • Teresa Welter cries as she holds a candle at a vigil for mudslide victims in Arlington, Washington, March 25, 2014.
  • A searcher uses a small boat to look through debris from a deadly mudslide in Oso, Washington, March 25, 2014.
  • An aerial view of the area affected by a landslide near State Route 530 is seen in this photo provided by Governor Jay Inslee's office, taken near Oso, Washington March 23, 2014.
  • A emergency vehicle is parked as a landslide and debris block Highway 530 near Oso, Washington, March 23, 2014.
  • Officials survey a large mudslide that pushed debris and at least one house onto Highway 530 near Oso, Washington, March 22, 2014.

The squish, squish of boots in mud may become one of the signature sounds of this disaster. And yes, it was raining again during our tour. Mason says navigating around “waist-deep” mud presents a constant challenge.

“We’ve had people bring in plywood, cut it into strips, so the workers can get out here, back and forth faster,” Mason said. “We’re building a [street] network out there to get out there.”

It was strangely quiet when I first got out of our van. The highway dead ends at a wall of mud and debris. I could see lots of rescue rigs and yellow back hoes and little bobcat loaders staged there. But none of them were running. I soon realized why.

A group of relatives was there. They’d come to see the place where one or more of their loved ones presumably took their last breaths. Such pauses to give families access for remembrance and communion happen multiple times a day.

It was a somber and powerful moment.

You May Like

Asian Stocks Plunge on Weak Factory Activity

Official survey finds China’s manufacturing sector contracted at its fastest pace in three years More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs