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Mudslide Rescue Volunteers: ‘We’re Going In Whether You Let Us Or Not’

KUOW Photo/Phyllis Fletcher

[asset-audio[{"description": "KUOW's Phyllis Fletcher and Bill Radke talk about the scene in Darrington.", "fid": "21760", "uri": "public://201403/20140327_pf_debrief.mp3"}]]Bob DeYoung came to a prayer vigil in Darrington wearing thick suspenders that held up jeans covered in mud.

“Sticks to everything,” he explained.

You could see he had been working hard. He had been out all day at the recovery site of the Oso mudslide, a square mile of devastated terrain 50 feet deep.

DeYoung is a logger. He’s also been a policeman. He said he’s one of the many local volunteers sorting through the debris with log shovels and excavators, and this is like nothing he’s ever seen.  

“It’s churned up with timber and house parts and cars that are just — you can’t even believe what they look like,” he said. “You can tell they’re metal and that’s about it.”

On the other side of the mud and debris that has blocked state Route 530 is Arlington. And there, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick expressed that same sense of shock after visiting the slide area.

“I must tell you that in my 44 years of public service, 31 years as a state trooper and 13 years in the United States Coast Guard, nothing in the world could have prepared me for what I saw,” Lovick said.

[asset-images[{"caption": "A flag, put up by volunteers helping search the area, stands in the ruins of a home left at the end of a deadly mudslide from the now-barren hillside seen about a mile behind.", "fid": "21746", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201403/osomudslide-APhouseflag.jpg", "attribution": "Credit AP Photo/Elaine Thompson "}]]Response commanders have seen bodies, and people like DeYoung have been helping to get them out. On Wednesday, he said they found one victim still in a car – buried about three feet deep in mud. “We didn’t get to see the entire car. We just found part of it and cut the roof off,” he said.

[asset-images[{"caption": "A boy scout troop in Arlington is contributing to the community's efforts. Grandfather Randy Agnew said, 'We just want to go and help. If I wasn’t so laid up I’d go help out at the site but I’d probably be hindering to everybody there.'", "fid": "21750", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201403/osomudslide-TWboyscoutdrive.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Taylor Winkel"}]]DeYoung has recognized the people he has found: three so far, one of them a child.

“You just try to get them out and then get them covered up,” he said. “We’re surrounded by family a lot of times. So you try to be as respectful as you can until the helicopter flies them out.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee made another trip to Darrington Wednesday. He attended the prayer vigil and the community meeting. Afterward he spoke to reporters. He expressed his shock at the scene.

“There is not a stick. There’s not a brick. There’s not a chimney. There is nothing in this slide area. And the power of this thing was beyond imagination,” Inslee said. “But, you know, there are powerful forces in nature of compassion and sticking together, and that’s what this town of Darrington’s doing.”

Sticking together — and insisting on helping out. At first emergency response, commanders did ask people to stay away from the slide.

DeYoung will not directly admit he was out there before it was officially sanctioned. But he said he had to go because he had the equipment and the know-how, and he couldn’t just sit there and watch TV.

“The local community is pretty tough,” DeYoung said. “And they stick together and we said, ‘Well, we’re going in whether you let us or not.’ That was the deal. So once they saw that then they started taking volunteers.”

His wife Julie DeYoung is helping in another way: by cooking for hundreds of people who come to the Darrington community center for a place to sleep, or just be with each other. Bob DeYoung calls her the town sweetheart.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Brent Collins rode his bike into Arlington to try find out about his friend, who may have been in the area when the mudslide hit.", "fid": "21748", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201403/osomudslide-PFbrentcollins.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Phyllis Fletcher"}]]The fatal slide has isolated Darrington from nearby Arlington, and people there are just as desperate for news.

Brent Collins rode his bike to the park that the city of Arlington and county officials have designated as the spot for updates to the media. He said he hasn’t heard from his friend who lives in the slide area.

“What I can put together is he was on his way to work and he was on 530 at the time of the slide,” Collins said. “I’m very hopeful that he’s still out there. But with the looks of it I honestly don’t know.”

Bob DeYoung said it’s very frustrating. Everything — and everyone — under the mud is buried very deeply. He doesn’t know how everything is going to get out. But he’s going back today. And tomorrow.