by: Gary Horcher Updated:DARRINGTON, Wash. —
Since searchers began digging through endless acres of deep mud, they’ve been unearthing thousands of personal mementos. Family pictures and other artifacts are often caked with mud, which could be mixed with hazardous chemicals or bacteria.
Carefully cleaning and preserving every found item is a job for the Washington National Guard Decontamination team. Guardsmen told KIRO 7, it’s the dirtiest job they’ve ever loved.
“I think it's very touching,” said Master Sergeant Courtney Serad from Lakewood. “For a lot of these families, this may be all they have left. It's a big deal to get whatever we can get cleaned and returned, to get these families some closure."
Every single artifact is treated with acre and respect, as if it's an original copy of the Magna Carta. The items are decontaminated with a soapy solution, dried, and stored in a warehouse. Slide victims will eventually have the opportunity to identify and claim what’s theirs, according to the Guardsmen.
“People keep bringing us piles of stuff and we keep decontaminating it, making sure it's all clean, said Sergeant Taylor Wilkerson.
Recovery crews told KIRO 7, under layers of material and debris in the stark landscape, pockets of personal items have led crews to the locations of bodies.
“Wilkerson said the job is not easy, but it is rewarding. “I'm touched that I get to do the job,” he said. “Because we're saving things for the community. That means a lot to the community."
Sergent Shaunise Ryan said crews are grateful someone is there to wash away the mud- while preserving memories buried deep beneath it.
“The crews are happy to see us, and it makes me happy to be out here to help and assist and serve."