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

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

Feasts centering on turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts are part of the holiday's traditions, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid