Mudslide witness: ‘Everything was gone in 3 seconds’

OSO — Paulo Falcao de Oliveira was driving his SUV up Highway 530 on his way to Darrington when he saw the mudslide hit.

Suddenly mud, rocks, trees and other debris swallowed the road and the vehicles in front of him.

“I was three cars back, and I saw a truck with a boat,” said the Lynnwood man, who was heading to Darrington to pick up his children. “After that, I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds.”

De Oliveira had only a few seconds to brake to avoid the slide. He jumped out of his car. He felt he had to do something to help, so when police arrived he tried to move some debris.

“We heard a woman and a baby screaming” in the rubble, he said.

De Oliveira saw emergency crews pull a baby from the mud and debris. Police say a 6-month-old was flown to Harborview Medical Center, where the child was listed in critical condition.

De Oliveira had been running late, and was stuck behind a slow driving vehicle.

“I had a car that was driving in front of me that was going so slow,” he said. Had he been a few seconds faster, that would have been him in the slide. “I feel lucky,” he said.

When the slide washed down the hill, Marla Skaglund was at home on Skaglund Hill east of Oso.

Her family has long lived on the hill. She didn’t see the slide, but she heard a loud noise, and then the power went out. She went outside and saw that her aunt and uncle’s house was gone. They died years ago, so the house was empty.

“It made a big noise. At first I thought it was the wind,” she said. “Ruth and Bill’s house across the road, it was a mess.”

In Oso, resident Nancy Snyder, who lives on the river with her dog, Henry, was talking on the phone when the line went dead, she said. A firefighter later knocked on the door and encouraged her to leave until the area was safe.

“I threw my shoes on and grabbed my dog and took off,” she said.

Snyder, Skaglund and other residents gathered at the Oso fire station, where they were given food and water. Many displaced residents later went to Post Middle School, where the Red Cross opened an emergency shelter.

Later in the afternoon while search and rescue operations were still under way, officials began to warn businesses downstream of the flood danger. Several businesses were forced to close early, including Patty’s Eggnest, a Subway shop, and the AM/PM convenience store and service station in the Island Crossing neighborhood.

At about 5:10 p.m., Marc Zajac, the cashier at the AM/PM, was turing customers away, warning them the gas pumps were being shut off.

“The fire department just came and said to get the heck out of here,” Zajac said, shooing people away from the pumps.

Inside, the station’s owner flipped on the “closed” sign.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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