A mudslide survivor recalls the terrifying disaster that engulfed her small community
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Mar 29, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 04:01 a.m. HST, Mar 29, 2014
DARRINGTON, Wash. » The roar of the hillside collapsing was so loud that Robin Youngblood thought an airplane had crashed. But when she looked out the window of her mobile home, all she saw was a wall of mud racing across her beloved river valley toward her home.
"All I could say was ‘Oh my God,' and then it hit us," Youngblood said. "Like a wave hit our mobile home and pushed it up. It tore the roof off of the house. When we stopped moving we were full of mud everywhere. Two minutes was the whole thing."
Youngblood is among the few survivors of the massive, deadly mudslide that destroyed a rural community northeast of Seattle last weekend. Five days after the destruction, Youngblood visited Darrington to see her cousin and follow up on the process of federal aid.
"It's really hard to see all of this. It's really hard to know that I can't go home. Several times this week I've said, ‘I need to go home now.' Then I realize there's no home to go to," she said Thursday.
In the early 1900s Youngblood's family helped establish the community of Darrington. They were Cherokee who had been forced to move to Oklahoma and Arkansas but decided to move to Washington. Youngblood's great-grandmother is buried a few blocks from the Darrington town center, she said.
Two years ago Youngblood was living in Hawaii, but her children asked her to move home. She found a mobile home on six acres; three of those were wetland by the river. The other three, she said, were above the historic flood line.
She had valley around her home with eagles, bear, fox, salmon and coyotes. Out of her home, she ran a church anchored on her Native American heritage.
All of that was destroyed in seconds March 22.
The wall of mud hit her home, engulfing her and a student of her church. Youngblood was able to swim to the surface and clung to the unattached roof before more water came in — a stroke of luck that probably helped save her life because she was not trapped. Her student, a Dutch national named Jetty Dooper, also surfaced.
"We cleaned everything from our noses and mouth so we could breathe," Youngblood said.
While they were clinging to the roof, a couple of neighboring kids ran toward the mud, but Youngblood yelled at them not to step into it and call 911.
Covered in freezing mud, Youngblood and Dooper waited. While waiting for help, she saw something of hers floating toward them, a painting called "Wolf Vision."
About an hour later a helicopter arrived and crews extracted Youngblood and Dooper. Youngblood made sure the painting was also retrieved. It's the only item she has from her home.
Days after the mud, Youngblood has developed a cough from the hypothermia, but otherwise she escaped largely unscathed.
"I'm grateful to be alive. I have no idea how I came out without being crushed from limb to limb," she said.
Dooper was deeply bruised but otherwise OK, Youngblood said.
The Dutch national is on her way back to the Netherlands, according to the Seattle Consul P.P.M. Hageman.
Youngblood is hoping to see what remains of her home, but for now her family is planning ahead. Her daughter is looking for another home, but it won't be in the valley.
"I don't think anybody is going to be able to go back to that valley for years and years," she said.
Manuel Valdes, Associated Press