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National Guard Searcher Describes ‘Sifting’ Through Crushed House

Washington National Guard
Washington National Guard searchers are assisting in the effort to locate victims of the Oso landslide in Snohomish County.

The Washington National Guard has now deployed two Black Hawk helicopters to the Oso landslide. On the ground, specially-trained search teams looked for victims in the mud and debris.

Master Sgt. Chris Martin described searching a single house caught in the path of the landslide, which has claimed 25 lives.

“It’s pretty much flattened and then encased in mud, and has trees inter-strewn amongst it," he said.

Martin says some 50 National Guard, fire department and volunteer searchers swarmed one house, often on their hands and knees using hand tools.

“It’s very muddy and soupy," he said. "If you can kind of imagine concrete before it sets is what it’s like.”

Martin says his team did not find a victim on this initial search, but they’ll be back out there again.

Martin, previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the National Guard, says this is not a mission impossible. He says it feels good to help fellow Washingtonians for a change.

The number of people missing or unaccounted for dropped Wednesday from 176 to 90, according to Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington.

The number of missing has been fluctuating, Pennington said, but authorities were able to eliminate 140 people who had been reported missing.

In addition there are 35 other people whose status is unknown.


Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.