First responders: Fatigue, risks and sadness

OSO — The flag was at half staff Monday at the Oso Fire Station, a simple brick building that means so much.

It was a gathering place for both helpers and family awaiting word of loved ones missing since Saturday’s mudslide.

Chief Willy Harper said 30 to 40 people, from the department and volunteers, spent part of the day digging in the slide area. Inside the station, relatives of some of the missing waited out of sight of the many news crews.

The wife of one firefighter is missing. The same is true of Brandy Ward, wife of Fire Commissioner Timothy Ward, who is in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

“Our firemen have worked day and night,” said Nancy Rambo, 66, who is the fire commissioners’ secretary. “We’re all so sad.”

Rambo lives with her husband, Bill, on Whitman Road near where the slide hit. She was not being allowed to go home Monday afternoon because the slide was still on the move.

Rambo has had some good news since the hill fell. Friends she believed had died, Bob and Bobbi Aylesworth, were rescued. Their hero had a familiar face. It was Bob Baker, their former son-in-law.

“He came and saved them,” Rambo said. “Their house is just demolished.”

As Rambo shared her story, Red Cross disaster services volunteers Steven Place and Cheryl Braley arrived with bags of Subway sandwiches for first responders.

Volunteers, including several Arlington High School boys, waited in the parking lot eager to join in the search.

Vicky Grabes has been caring for her two grandchildren, and their pets, since Saturday while their parents, Darrington volunteer firefighters Martha and Darin Park, help with rescue efforts.

“I am so proud of them,” she said.

Access limited

Up Highway 530, at the intersection with Oso Loop Road, Washington State Patrol troopers blocked traffic. A number of people who had been allowed to stay in their homes near the slide had left for supplies. They had to wait about four hours Monday afternoon before being allowed back in.

Davis and Ruth Hargrave believe their vacation home is gone, but the Kirkland couple’s lives may have been spared by happenstance.

The Hargraves bought their cabin on Steelhead Drive about 15 years ago. Davis Hargrave, a 73 year old retired architect, put countless hours of labor into turning the place that was once an “old beater” into their dream getaway spot.

“It is just a cabin but it is just a little jewel box,” said Ruth Hargrave, 67.

The Hargraves had planned to be at the cabin last weekend but plans changed when a friend from Australia paid them a visit on her way back from skiing at Whistler.

“It was just a simple decision,” Davis Hargrave said, and that decision to stay in Kirkland probably saved their lives.

The Hargraves were at the roadblock on Highway 530 on Monday hoping to learn about their neighbors.

Davis Hargrave said he only learned that one friend from Steelhead Drive was alive when he read in the newspaper that the man was at an evacuation center in Arlington.

“That was really good news. They left 10 minutes before the slide,” Davis Hargrave said.

Kathy Kennamer, 50, lives a half mile from the slide on Montague Creek. She and her family spent Saturday night in their vehicles to get farther away from the river. Her husband and two teenage sons were home Monday, but Kennamer wasn’t being allowed back in after leaving for supplies.

Kennamer said she knows people who are missing and some who were killed.

Peter Carlson, 56, who also lives on Whitman Road, stayed Saturday and Sunday nights at home but left Monday for supplies. He spent part of Monday waiting at the roadblock, too. He made Oso his home in order to “get away,” he said.

“There are a lot of good people up here — country people.”

The century-old Oso Community Chapel once kept a woodstove in the sanctuary. Sunday services there draw about 80 parishioners, the Rev. Gary Ray said Monday.

The church was not damaged by the mudslide and was used as a staging area for farmers who were loading livestock in trailers to evacuate. All of the church families had been accounted for by Monday evening, Ray said.

“Everyone knows somebody who has been impacted by the incident,” Ray said. “There’s a lot of hurt, a lot of loss.”

‘Awful lot of grieving’

News media from across the country gathered outside the command center set up at Arlington Police Department.

At a press conference Monday evening, Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said searchers are losing hope of discovering more survivors.

The last one was found Saturday. “Most of us in this community believe that we don’t expect anyone to be found” alive, he said. But “I’m a man of faith, and I believe in miracles,” Pennington said.

Nearby, a visibly upset woman badgered officials for being in town making speeches rather than out searching.

“It’s still light out there, you should be out looking,” she said. The woman left a few minutes later.

“There’s an awful lot of grieving” in the community, Pennington said.

‘New normal’

In Arlington Monday, Colin Downey, a Seattle-based Red Cross spokesman, spoke to reporters outside the emergency shelter at Post Middle School. School was in session, and children played outside during a recess.

The shelter housed 27 people overnight Sunday and about the same number Saturday.

“We’ll be here for weeks, months, maybe years,” he said.

Downey has responded to at least 10 major disasters in the U.S. The Oso mudslide differs because there’s no “new normal” yet for victims and their families.

“As each hour and day goes by, that brings more uncertainty,” he said. “We can’t pretend to know what that feels like.”

Soothing words

An Arlington church opened its doors Monday evening to comfort a community.

More than 50 people filled the pews of the Arlington United Church for a prayer service.

Since Saturday’s devastating landslide near Oso, church member Mark Slyter said the church has looked for ways to help. The prayer service, he said, “was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

People were invited to come forward and share their prayers at an open microphone.

“I want to say a little prayer for the teachers and counselors,” said Mary Antilla, of Arlington. She later said her neighbor is a teacher who must now try to help children understand the tragedy.

“We can’t even imagine what they see,” said Pastor Jessica Ronhaar, in her prayers for the search crews.

Jenny Glasco, 38, of Arlington, brought two of her children along “so they could experience what the community is going through.”

At the end of the service, some stayed to pray quietly. As others filed out of the church, some dropped donations for American Red Cross disaster relief efforts into baskets by the door.

Julie Muhlstein, 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com

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