Oso slide volunteers looking for missing, mementos

by: Deborah Horne Updated:

Darrington, WA —

Some 125 volunteers continued searching in Darrington on the east side of the massive landslide still looking for the missing Sunday.

They are also recovering personal items that were swept away, too.

"So what you see down here are homes that have been picked up, spun around in like a blender," said Bellevue Fire Lt. Richard Burke as he guided news crews around the disaster zone now known as the Oso Landslide.

Eight days later, it is still an arresting sight. 

What used to be a vibrant neighborhood of homes, reduced to a muddy field of debris. Volunteers working with their hands and small tools, meticulously going through what is left, looking for traces of the lives that once made up the fabric of the Steelhead Drive community.  

It is a fact not lost on even the seasoned veterans doing the painstaking work.

"I met a family today," said Burke. "One gentleman had lost his child and another had lost his sister. What do you do? You hug 'em."

The main task remains finding those who are still missing.  But they are also working to recover personal mementos that are precious to those who survived the slide.

"Those mementos go through a decontamination process," said Kris Rietmann, spokeswoman for the Darrington slide work.  "And then they are securely stored so that families can be reunited  with some of their belongings."

Getting into the slide zone is easier now that a power line road has been essentially rebuilt.

It is available only to the work crews.  But the road has cut in half the time it takes to get into the disaster zone.

Just what happened to cause so much destruction last weekend is coming into sharper focus.

Burke said the experts from the U.S. Geological Survey concluded the slide was like a volcano that blew out of the side of the mountain.  It created a mudflow that swept away everything in its path. What was on the mountain's top, fell into a heap below. 

Now, he says, it is a hazardous materials site that will likely be off limits to the public for years.

"We've got sewer, we've got all the products again from your home, gasoline from the vehicles, oil," said Burke.  "So we're being very cognizant of all of those things.  That's why we're very concerned with decontamination. 

"You just have to see it to believe it."

But all of the work, he says, is for one purpose:  to reunite families with those they loved and lost.

"We're here," he said.  "We're help to help these folks. We've going be here.  We've given our word that we're going to be here as long as they need."