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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora