Charlotte Gibson has dug through the mud with her hands and shovels to find everything from family photos to cribs to cars: “Whatever we can find for the families.”
She’s sifted through the massive rubble pile left behind when the earth released a mountainside that buried entire neighborhoods in Western Washington.
Working hand in hand with hundreds of rescue workers and civilian volunteers, sometimes in the pouring rain and in mud as deep as 15 feet, Gibson described the destruction as “overwhelming” and “emotional.”
“We have a long path ahead of us,” said the senior airman, whose 50-person Air National Guard unit from Fairchild Air Force Base joined the rescue and extraction effort Tuesday. “We’re going to stay until they tell us to go home.”
Salvage and rescue efforts continue eight days after a mudslide destroyed homes in a rural area near Oso, sending earth, trees and truck-size boulders thundering across state Highway 530 and clogging the Stillaguamish River.
The official death toll stood at 18 Saturday. The search for 30 missing people continues.
One Spokane family is holding on to hope their loved ones will be found alive.
Shane and Katie Ruthven and their sons, Hunter, 6, and Wyatt, 4; and Shane Ruthven’s mother, JuDee Vandenburg, and stepfather, Lou Vandenburg, lived on Steelhead Drive in the slide area. All are among the missing.
Shane Ruthven grew up in Spokane, graduated from Ferris High School in 1987 and lived here until moving to the West Side in the early 2000s. He and his wife owned Mountain Lion Glass.
The Vandenburgs are Rogers High School graduates and moved to live near their son and his family.
A Facebook post from one of Shane Ruthven’s sisters, Mistina Branham, asks: “Please send ur prayers & Hope, we could really use it! Starting to get pretty scary!”
Ruthven’s family has declined to talk to the media. Shane Ruthven’s sister-in-law, Jami Pratt Pszonka, said, “I just don’t think the family is quite ready to give their story yet.”
Jeff Wilcox, who worked with Shane Ruthven in Spokane, had recently reconnected with his former co-worker.
“I hadn’t seen Shane in a few years, and he recently found me on Facebook,” Wilcox said. Hearing he was among the missing was “a terrible, terrible shock to me.”
Heather Rodin moved to Spokane two years ago from her hometown of Darrington. She has driven Highway 530 more than “100,000 times,” she said. “It’s really the only way to get down to the main grocery store and the shopping area.”
Her parents still live in Darrington. Her mother, Margo Powell, is a volunteer firefighter and EMT there, and she’s also on the board of directors at Cascade Valley Hospital. Her dad is a high school history teacher.
They’re safe, she said.
Her younger sister missed the mudslide by about a half-hour as she drove away from Darrington, Rodin said.
“Our neighbor and lots of family and friends were hurt in the slide,” she said.
Everyone she knows has been helping in any way possible: “I haven’t been able to talk to anyone because they’ve all been working 20 hours a day.”
Rodin headed to Darrington on Friday to begin her efforts to memorialize those lost in the natural disaster.
“I’m hoping this weekend I can meet up with my old shop teacher from the high school, and he can recruit his students to build crosses,” she said. “My goal is to raise money to purchase all the wood. Any additional money will be used to help with memorials.”
Rodin has set up an account at Horizon Credit Union: The 530 Memorial Fund.
Once the debris is cleared away, she hopes to position the crosses along the highway, each one a reminder of a lost loved one.