Couple raced to save people, now they keep digging

DARRINGTON — Jeff McClelland is a tall man of 53 who wells up frequently when he describes the race to save lives and the devastation of Saturday’s deadly Oso mudslide.

When he arrives home in the dark physically exhausted and emotionally wrung, the Darrington firefighter and EMT knows he can talk to his wife, Jan, and that she will understand. The McClellands are one of five couples on the all-volunteer fire department.

With fellow firefighter Shaylah Dobbins, the McClellands were teamed up in the hours after the mudslide swallowed a neighborhood west of town.

By the time they heard the screams off C-Post Road, they knew there would be massive casualties.

“It wasn’t like a mudslide,” Jan McClelland said. “It was like a mountain fell.”

They did what they could to save the living and tag the dead.

It took 45 minutes, 600 feet of rope and a few frustrated tears to slowly cross the soup of mud, clay, rock and timber to reach a critically injured man whose arm dangled limp by his side.

While Jan McClelland and Dobbins tended to the man’s medical needs, Jeff McClelland flagged down a rescue helicopter.

When the man asked if his pancaked house was OK, she quickly changed the subject and invited him to come to her goat farm for cheese this summer. The man is recovering at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Each evening, the couple shares stories when they get home.

On Tuesday, they worked on separate teams rummaging through the rubble with other volunteers from town.

Jeff McClelland witnessed a young man find the body of his missing father. A chaplain was called and the victim’s brother summoned. Workers made space for them to grieve.

At the same time, Jan McClelland helped search the remnants of a home where Oso volunteer firefighter Seth Jefferds lost his wife, Christina, and 4-month-old granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis.

Images of Sanoah’s splintered crib weigh heavy on Jan McClelland’s mind.

“It’s the little things that break your heart,” she said.

The search was personal. The McClellands knew Jefferds from training with their neighboring volunteer fire department.

“They are like our brothers over there,” she said.

Jeff McClelland knows the search for bodies is just beginning. He vows to press on.

“We will just keep digging,” he said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

More in Local News

Inclusion super important to Monroe High senior

Sarah Reeves worked to make homecoming more representative of the student population.

This dental office devoted a day to free care for veterans

All Smiles Northwest in Everett was among businesses observing Freedom Day USA.

Officials ID man shot and killed in apparent Everett robbery

Police believe the victim may have known the shooter, who drove away before the officers arrived.

Man, 60, in critical condition after Bothell crash

Police believe the driver may have been speeding when he hit a rock wall.

FBI operation arrests 3 linked to exploitation of 32 women

The sting focused on Everett and other cities in Snohomish, King, Pierce, Skagit and Spokane counties.

Man arrested in Monroe Walmart robbery; second suspect flees

The pair fled in a stolen Mitsubishi Lancer with a distinctive green spray paint job.

Fugitive convict, missing more than a year, surrenders

Charles Coggins, 60, turned himself in Monday. He could now spend up to 30 days behind bars.

Elderly couple escape serious injuries in crash with train

The driver drove down tracks instead of a road, hitting a slow-moving train near Stanwood.

Former homeless camp needs needles and garbage cleaned up

The Hand Up Project will lead a volunteer effort this weekend on wooded land south of Everett.

Most Read