Volunteer searchers ‘walking through memories’

OSO — Search volunteer Sonny Blankenship, 18, lives on Highway 530, across the street from the Oso Fire Department, where his father is a firefighter.

Right after the mudslide, Blankenship, a Westin High School student, was more than ready to help. But he had to wait until the threat of flooding subsided before he could return home.

On Tuesday morning, around 9 a.m., he and other local volunteers were formed into crews and shuttled on a church bus to the slide.

“You go in there, and it’s, for one, it’s so much worse than like what they show on the news,” he said. “The news doesn’t even cover how much damage is done. You’re walking through like puddles, and you’re walking through people’s … people’s memories, belongings, you know, photos, books and such, and it’s just rough.

“And you know every once in a while they, they find a body, and you know that’s even worse. Everybody kind of stops what they’re doing at that point. It’s crowded. It’s tough … ”

Firefighters were supervising, with lots of heavy machinery and backhoes being used in the search, he said.

For volunteers, “a lot of it is just moving debris because there’s layers and layers of debris and trees that have to be cut up and (carted) away so that search dogs can look,”

Blankenship said. “Because they’re kinda, you know, just searching for whatever they can find.”

He knew some of the people missing in the slide.

“It’s the right thing to do, you know,” he said. “Things like this happen in your community and you just gotta step up and, you know, not be a hero, but just do what you can.”

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