‘I did not let that baby go for one second’: Mother tells story of mudslide

SEATTLE — Amanda Skorjanc heard a terrifying noise. The hill above her Oso home had just collapsed with a sound she will never forget.

At first, it sounded like a truck off a rumble strip, she said.

Then the lights at her home started to shake and blink.

“It was like a movie,” she said. “Houses were exploding. The next thing I see is my neighbor’s chimney coming into the front door.”

Skorjanc said when she saw the wave of mud and debris heading toward her, she grabbed her five-month-old son, Duke Suddarth, and held him to her tightly.

“That’s when it hit us,” she said. “I did not let that baby go for one second.”

Skorjanc remembers crying out to God: “Please save us.”

“It got dark around us and it was throwing us all over the place,” she said. “It was very, very strong and very violent.”

Skorjanc, 25, a survivor of the massive Oso landslide on March 22, is still hospitalized at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center with multiple fractures to her eye, arm, leg and ankle. She talked for the first time Wednesday about surviving the disaster, which has killed at least 36 people. Ten others are missing.

Skorjanc said that when the mud and debris finally stopped moving, she found herself about 700 feet from her home in a group of trees. She and her son were caught in the pieces of a broken couch. “We were in this little cushioned pocket,” she said. “We had very little debris around us, a piece of ceiling and two-by-fours.”

Her legs were trapped from the knees down. “Here I am trapped with my child and this debris and I can’t move and I can’t scream loud enough for help,” she said. “We live in Oso. It would take a while for people to come.”

Skorjanc said she never lost consciousness. “I felt and heard and saw everything going on,” she said.

She tried to move her son to a spot where he would be more easily found, but it was impossible. “My arm was so broken, I couldn’t move it.”

Holding her son to her chest, she looked down at him and saw he was beginning to turn blue.

“I thought I was losing him,” she said. “I would say, ‘Stay with me Bud,’ and ask God not to take him in front of me.” It was an image, she said, that “will stay with me forever.”

Suddenly she heard someone yelling, asking if anyone was there. Her son began to cry. “I stuck my hand out where we had this little space. I told them he was five months old,” she said.

Amanda said it took about six people, using two chainsaws, to free her from the couch.

A helicopter team from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office initially transported her to Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington.

Her partner, Ty Suddarth, had hugged both her and their son goodbye that morning to run an errand in Darrington. He found out about the mudslide from his brother, who called to tell him “everything might be gone.”

Suddarth said he went to the Oso firehouse to await news and first got word Amanda had survived and later that Duke had been rescued.

Duke was taken to Harborview for treatment of a fractured skull and initially was listed in critical condition in intensive care. He made such steady progress that on April 1 he was transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital. His parents declined to be more specific about his condition and said they don’t know when he might be able to come home.

Skorjanc was transferred to Harborview in Seattle the day of the disaster. Her injuries have required six surgeries.

Her physician, Dr. Daphne Beingessner, said Wednesday that Skorjanc will need to use a wheelchair for about 10 weeks, and it could take a year for her to more fully recover. She also could face long-term problems with stiffness or arthritis, particularly in her fractured ankle.

The couple said they want to meet those who helped in the rescue. “There’s a lot of amazing people who stepped up,” she said. “They did something we can’t repay them for.”

She said she still struggles with her emotions every day and feels blessed that she, Suddarth and their son all survived. “At the same time, I feel guilty that I have my family and some don’t,” she said.

A basket near her hospital bed is stuffed with cards from well-wishers, many from people she doesn’t know. “I’m so overwhelmed with the love and support we get every day,” she said. “It helps. It really does. There are no words to say how grateful I am.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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