Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots was not at the press conferences on Wednesday after he was urged to get some rest in the wake of the ongoing response to the fatal Oso mudslide.
Instead, Hots said he headed to the site of the slide to survey the area and interact with the volunteers who continue to dig through the swampy conditions with bulldozers, shovels and their hands in an attempt to find people believed to be buried in the mud.
"I wanted to be out there in the trenches with my people,” Hots said as he described the scene to the press on Thursday morning.
He said the square-mile zone of devastation included clay balls the size of ambulances that rolled off the hill and smashed everything in their path.
Working with the volunteers – many locals with loved ones who may have been victims of the mudslide – Hots said he was impressed with the compassion and dignity they showed. He said that if a person was discovered, the volunteers didn’t stop until the person was removed, which may take several hours.
"When the person is removed, things get kind of somber out there,” he said. “You can almost hear a pin drop.”
Now in day six of search and recovery operations, Hots said he still hasn't given up hope that someone may be rescued. "We're not changing gears. We're not changing the pace of this. We're going to exhaust all options to try to find someone alive," he said.
Governor Jay Inslee echoed that resolve after a bill signing in Olympia on Thursday, saying that the approach is still to mount a full scale rescue effort. He also said that the Oso mudslide could be the deadliest natural disaster in state history.
“We do know this could end up being the largest mass loss of Washingtonians, but whether it is or is not it does not change on how we are approaching this,” Inslee said.
Families Visit The Search Site
Tom Miner, a resident of Gig Harbor, Wash., is the leader of the incident support team for FEMA. He said that he has been involved in operations after the September 11 attacks at the World Trade Center as well as the Oklahoma City Bombing.
He said Thursday afternoon that as good as the media is at giving out the information and images regarding this tragedy, there's no way to truly understand the scope of landslide until it’s seen up close.
His team took some of the immediate family members into the search zone to give them an overall view of the efforts to recover their loved ones.
“It’s part of the process in a tragedy such as this to get a better understanding of the scope, the magnitude and the tremendous effort that's going on by their friends neighbors and total strangers – just the tremendous effort that's going into this,” Miner said.
Earthquakes Did Not Trigger Slide
Local seismometers have shown that an earthquake definitely did not trigger Saturday's landslide at Oso. Information about the landslide readings was posted Wednesday on the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network blog by Kate Allstadt, a researcher at the University of Washington.
The seismic signals show there were two major slides during the event, about four minutes apart. She writes the landslide was detected on 17 seismic stations up to 170 miles away. The closest was seven miles away.
They show the biggest slide started at 10:37 a.m. and lasted more than two minutes: That was the slide that first hit the town of Oso.
Then a second slide happened at 10:41 a.m. The two major landslides were then followed by more than a dozen smaller slides for more than an hour.
- Crisis Care Hotline: 800.584.3578. Available for all those in the community who have been affected by the landslide, staffed around the clock to provide counseling and crisis intervention.
- Snohomish County information on volunteer and donation needs.
- To report or provide information on a missing person in the mudslide, contact the Snohomish County Sheriff's tip line: 425.388.3845.
- Information for Darrington residents.