The mud is relentless, but so are the slide rescuers

OSO — The mud is fighting back.

It covers bolt cutters, boots and chainsaws. It wants to swallow everything.

On the west side of the debris field left by the hill that fell on this community, rescuers Wednesday wore orange and green vests over jeans duct-taped into rubber waders. Their faces were grim, conversations quiet and hugs shared. They worked using tractors and shovels and bare hands.

The mud wants to swallow everything.

They are trying to take it back.

The whir of heavy machinery at the mudslide in Oso dominated everything. Backhoes dug, looking for life where most likely, only bodies remain. Black Hawk helicopters dotted the sky.

Blue mountains loomed behind. The mountains are always there.

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary and Undersheriff Brent Speyer drove to the debris field so Trenary could check on his people, to make sure they were OK.

The rescuers have been out there around-the-clock since the slide hit Saturday morning, Trenary said. They need water, food, sleep — backup.

Their mission is focused on those who are missing loved ones. Identities of the known dead will become public soon, Trenary said, but only after teams of chaplains and deputies break the hard news to families.

“People are waiting. They deserve to have an answer,” Trenary said. “The hardest part is yet to come.”

A school bus carrying volunteers drove by. Military vehicles lined the road, surrounded by gear bags. The dress code for rescue workers had room for suspenders, camouflage and firefighter pants.

A man sitting on a stretcher smoking a cigarette covered his face when he saw a journalist’s camera.

The slide has knocked trees over, like toys discarded by a careless child. A creek flowed nearby, dirty brown mixing with gray.

Colors are all blended together in the muck. A black tire. An orange cone. Pieces of wood sticking up from the ground.

Four backhoes worked in unison, digging into debris believed to contain pieces of what used to be houses. Nearby, Highway 530 peeked from beneath a thick layer of mud that sucked at shoes. In places, the double-yellow line painted down the roadway’s middle could be seen.

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick stopped by to be briefed by crews. His face was drawn.

Days spent amid the destruction have worn at everyone.

After checking in with people, Trenary and Speyer headed back toward Oso, stopping at the fire station where the flag flew at half-staff.

Smoke drifted over from an RV, where insurance agents from Arlington were barbecuing for rescuers.

A woman with a miniature dachshund named Captain walked up to Speyer while he was checking in with motorcycle deputies who were at the fire station.

She asked the undersheriff if he wanted to pet the little dog, if he needed “some warm and fuzzies.”

Speyer leaned in toward Captain. He shared a story about his own little mutt at home.

There is still so much work to do. Crews are tired. Everyone is watching, waiting for answers.

Those who are digging and searching outside Oso know this:

The mud can’t win.

Rikki King, 425-339-3449, rking@heraldnet.com

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