DARRINGTON, Wash. — Driving into the mudslide zone is like entering a wasteland — filled with work crews, heavy equipment, an organized chaos as far as the eye can see.
The March 22 mudslide leveled everything in its path, including the community, about 55 miles northeast of Seattle, that had been once dotted by houses to the left of the Stillaguamish River.
We’re taken to the last shred of Highway 530, still standing along where the slide blew through.
As we walk along the stretch of road, we try to identify anything recognizable, but most of it is broken up sticks and pieces of homes. You can see pieces of clothing, some cups. In the distance, there’s a bulldozer moving things around. There are pieces of metal. It’s all bunched up together like it was put in a blender.
We’re warned not to step so much as an inch into the debris and not to touch anything or we’ll have to be decontaminated.
The mud is filled with chemicals, propane and oil — you can smell it. In some areas, it’s up to 80 feet deep.
Even with all the pictures, the perspective is off the charts. It’s a full mile from where the slide began atop a hill to the wreckage below and it goes on for another mile to the right and left.
Work crews, even search dogs, are cleaned up on their way out every day. The conditions have left many of the dogs injured just from walking around.
They’ve built an intricate patchwork of walkways with planks of wood throughout the area to keep from sinking into the thick mud.
Before we leave, from up on the ridge line where the landslide began, we are reminded that the devastation used to be a neighborhood. A single family photo, mud-stained and tattered, is sitting on the ground.
More than two dozen people have been confirmed to have died in the landslide. The painstaking work to find the rest continues.