Washington Mudslide Searches are Difficult on First Responders

There is little relief for rescuers who bring closure to relatives and friends

 

 
 
 

BRIAN SKOLOFF and LISA BAUMANN, Associated Press | | Thursday, March 27, 2014


VIDEOS

Multimedia Thumb

Raw: Rescue during Washington Mudslide

Snohomish Helicopter Rescue Team lifts boy from mudslide.
more >





DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) — As firefighter Jeff McClelland uncovered a body on the moon-like surface that blankets what used to be the community of Oso, he soon realized that the search party had a close connection to the victim: The dead man's son and brother were among the volunteers scouring the debris field.

The relatives sat beside the body as it was zipped into a bag. McClelland found himself overcome with tears.

The discovery served as a touching reminder of the deeply emotional work that is playing out in this tight-knit town as rescuers like McClelland search for bodies in the muck and devastation, hoping to at least bring some closure to the relatives and friends of those who have not been found.

"I can go home and ... eat some food, hug my wife, come in and hug my friends the next morning and say, 'Let's go again. We've got something to do. We've got a job to do, so let's go do it,'" McClelland said, recalling his thoughts on Wednesday.

Scores of people once thought missing in the mudslide have turned up safe, but that provided little relief to rescuers like McClelland who are tasked with bringing closure to the relatives and friends of those who have not been found.

Hope of a miracle discovery of a survivor has faded as the search entered its sixth day Thursday, replaced by acknowledgement that some families may not be able to bury a body.

Authorities cross-referencing the reports they received of missing people with those who had checked were able to eliminate 140 people from the list of the missing Wednesday, said Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington.

That left 90 confirmed missing, with another 35 who authorities are unsure were in the area when a hillside collapsed Saturday morning 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

Becky Bach watches and waits, hoping that search crews find her brother, his wife, her 20-year-old great-niece and the young girl's fiance.

"Realistically ... I honestly don't think they're going to find them alive," Bach said, crying. "But as a family, we're trying to figure out what to do if they find no bodies."

Doug Massingale waits too, for word about his 4-month-old granddaughter. Searchers were able to identify carpet from the infant's bedroom, but a log jam stood in the way of a more thorough effort to find little Sanoah Huestis, known as "Snowy."

"It's stressful to think about," he said. "A little baby that hasn't gotten a start yet in life. It's too much."

Crews found another body late Wednesday, said Brian McMahan, a landslide incident spokesman. Authorities have now discovered at least 25 bodies, though not all have been recovered. Authorities said they expected to update the toll Thursday morning.

Trying to recover every corpse would be impractical and dangerous.

The debris field is about a square mile and 30 to 40 feet deep in places, with a surface that includes quicksand-like muck, rain-slickened mud and ice. The terrain is difficult to navigate on foot and makes it treacherous or impossible to bring in heavy equipment.

To make matters worse, the pile is laced with other hazards that include fallen trees, propane and septic tanks, twisted vehicles and countless shards of shattered homes.

The knowledge that some victims could be abandoned to the earth is difficult to accept.

"We have to get on with our lives at some point," Bach said.

Bach spoke via phone about a wedding the family had planned for summer at the rural home that was destroyed. And how, she wondered, do you plan a funeral without a body? "We'll probably just have a memorial, and if they find the bodies eventually, then we'll deal with that then."

A death certificate, issued by the state, is legal proof that someone has died. Families often need them to settle their affairs. The authority to issue them starts with a county medical examiner or coroner, said Donn Moyer, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health. If and when it appears there is no chance of finding someone, people can ask the county to start that process.

Two Washington National Guard Blackhawk helicopters arrived at the site Wednesday to relieve sheriff's helicopter crews that had been working since Saturday.

The Blackhawks' sole mission is body removal, said Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

Other survivors began to grow impatient Wednesday that they weren't allowed to return to the sites of their homes to search for their valuables and keepsakes.

"This isn't right. All of us who are still alive need to have access and find what we can of our lives," said Robin Youngblood, who said her son-in-law was turned away from the slide site.

___

Baumann reported from Seattle.

___

Associated Press writers Phuong Le and Matt Volz in Seattle; P. Solomon Banda in Darrington, Wash.; and photographer Elaine Thompson in Oso, Wash.; and researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Mobile Category: 
News


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Raw: Rescue during Washington Mudslide


Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, mudslide, natural disaster

 
What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS





 

Get JEMS in Your Inbox

 

Fire EMS Blogs


Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts

 

EMS Airway Clinic

Innovation & Progress

Follow in the footsteps of these inspirational leaders of EMS.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Community Paramedicine Expanding in Maine

Eight departments receive a grant for use towards the new program.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

New Ambulance, Fire Engine Approved for Illinois Department

Officials approve new purchases for Bloomington.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Alabama Officials Worry over Ambulance Coverage

County officials work to find best solution.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Car Crashes into Texas Ambulance

Ambulance hit while responding to a call.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

California Beach Lightning Strike MCI

More than a dozen injured in Venice Beach lighting strike.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Braun Ambulances' EZ Door Forward

Helps to create a safer ambulance module.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >


More Product Videos >