TOPICS > Nation

Washington landslide search teams and volunteers make progress despite mud like wet concrete

March 27, 2014 at 6:10 PM EDT
With at least 90 still missing, the death toll from the mudslide in Washington is expected to rise dramatically in the next couple of days. Jeffrey Brown talks to Master Sgt. Chris Martin of the Washington State National Guard about making progress in the systematic and painstaking search for more people.

GWEN IFILL: Rescue and recovery crews on the ground in Washington State are struggling against tough conditions and a forecast of more rain. The mudslide happened about 50 miles northeast of Seattle in the small town of Oso.

Jeffrey Brown has this update.

The National Guard joined the efforts earlier this week.

Master Sergeant Chris Martin is a member of the search and extraction team. He joins us from Arlington right near the site of the mudslide.

Well, thank you for joining us.

So, what is the situation there today? Has it gotten any easier to do the work?

MASTER SGT. CHRIS MARTIN, Washington State National Guard: You know, it seems like we have made a lot of progress from yesterday.

We have two teams of 25 people working out on the — in the site today. We’re doing more of a systemic grid search through the area, and things — things look like they’re moving in the right direction.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, we have been hearing for days about the quicksand conditions of the site and the difficulties of the search. How are you coping with that?

MASTER SGT. CHRIS MARTIN: They are — the conditions are very rough.

If you can kind of imagine mud, the consistency of concrete before it sets, lots of trees strewn about, really, the — it’s slow-going, painstaking. And we just take our time to be safe and search through the debris field as carefully as we can to make sure that we don’t miss anything.

JEFFREY BROWN: We know there’s always hope of finding someone alive still. But given what you have seen up there, do you think it’s possible?

MASTER SGT. CHRIS MARTIN: You know, I’m a man of faith. I believe in hope. And I believe in miracles. I always would like to think that there’s always the chance that we might find somebody.

JEFFREY BROWN: I understand that more local volunteers were — have been allowed on the site today. That’s after officials were trying to keep them away. What can you tell us about that?

MASTER SGT. CHRIS MARTIN: I worked with quite a few local volunteers yesterday. They integrated with us well.

They have more at stake in this than the rest of us. And they got in right next to us and were assisting moving out the debris. They were very helpful, and we enjoyed working next to them.

JEFFREY BROWN: This must be taking a toll on the rescue teams up there, the hard slog, sometimes the bad weather, and the slow pace?

MASTER SGT. CHRIS MARTIN: We work in shifts so we make sure that we don’t burn ourselves out too quickly.

We also have several chaplains on site to talk with us as kind of a de-stress situation or to debrief us after we come off of the site. So I think that we’re doing very well as a whole.

JEFFREY BROWN: And I presume you have to take great care with every bit of ground that you are working with.


It’s kind of like they took a blender to the landscape, so you could find anything amongst the rubble in there. So we’re very painstakingly searching through the area to find anything that might be of interest.

JEFFREY BROWN: Have you yourself ever dealt with anything quite like this?

MASTER SGT. CHRIS MARTIN: Personally, I have not, no. This is a new experience for me.

But I’m definitely glad to be able to help the community of Oso. I’m from Washington State. I’m helping my fellow Washingtonians, and that’s what the National Guard is all about.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you have any sense at this point about — given the difficulties you’re facing about how long this will go on, is it days, weeks, even longer, perhaps?

MASTER SGT. CHRIS MARTIN: It is certainly going to take awhile.

And the National Guard will be there as long as the local — local says that they need us here to be.

JEFFREY BROWN: Master Sergeant Chris Martin of the Washington State National Guard, thanks so much for joining us.