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

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs