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Washington mudslide brings tales of heroism, loss

  • Article by: The Associated Press
  • Associated Press
  • March 27, 2014 - 1:30 AM

DARRINGTON, Wash. — As the search for Washington state mudslide victims entered its fifth day Wednesday, rescuers and residents at the scene brought back tales of heroism, loss and the dangers that remain. Here are a few of their stories:

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Robin Youngblood and another woman were the first of 16 people to be rescued by helicopter after Saturday's slide. Responders found them caked in mud from head to toe and perched on part of a roof floating in 3 feet of water.

Youngblood described the disaster Wednesday, saying she was in her home when she heard a noise and looked outside to see a 20-foot wall of mud coming straight toward her.

"The whole thing was over in 30 seconds," she said. "It was like being hit by a 747."

She and the unidentified woman clung to the roof, which acted as a life preserver, and waved to a rescue helicopter. They were hypothermic when the chopper approached.

Snohomish County Crew Chief Randy Fay said the women and other survivors were immobilized by what he described as "walking shock."

Youngblood was able to salvage a painting of a Native American figure, and asked Fay as she was hoisted into the helicopter to save it.

"That's all she's got left," Fay said. "I'm so glad I could do that."

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While that first helicopter rescue was underway, the crew spotted a young child alone, partially sunken in mud with nothing and nobody around him.

Two men on the ground also saw the boy, 4-year-old Jacob Spillers, and one was able to work his way through the deep, sucking muck to reach him, Fay said.

Less than an hour earlier, Jacob was home with his father and three siblings when the mudslide struck. His mother, Jonielle Spillers, was at work.

The helicopter hovered over the child and man, while Fay jumped out onto a nearby mound. He assisted the man in moving Jacob to him and onto the helicopter.

The man tried to walk back through the debris field but started sinking again, so the helicopter crew rescued him too.

Jacob was able to reunite with his mother, but his other family members are still missing.

"The good news is, mom and kid are back together, so that's what you hang on to," Fay said.

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Linda and Gary "Mac" McPherson were in their living room reading the newspaper in twin recliners Saturday morning when the trees outside began to shake and they heard a loud noise.

A wall of mud, rock and trees ripped their home from its foundation and carried it at least 150 feet. Mac McPherson was trapped, his leg pinned by a beam, but able to breathe. He found a stick and began to dig out.

Friends spotted him and began to help. McPherson, 78, told them to leave him and find his wife. The body of 68-year-old Linda, a former librarian and school board member, was found nearby.

Now out of the hospital, McPherson recalled his efforts to dig out and added, "I kept yelling at Linda to dig."

He's not sure how he'll start over.

"Ain't no way in hell I'll ever build a house under a mountain again, especially not that mountain," he said.

Source: The Seattle Times, The New York Times, KOMO-TV.

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About 200 people shared hugs and tears while singing "Amazing Grace" in a vigil for the people lost in the mudslide.

Some of those gathered Tuesday evening at Legion Park in Arlington said they wanted to help but had nowhere else to go to lend a hand. Many held candles and prayed.

Pastor Chad Blood of the Lifeway Foursquare Church said the vigil demonstrated hope and that the community is standing with the victims.

© 2014 Star Tribune