San Diego Firefighters Helping in Rescue at Washington Mud Flow

Locals will logistic/managerial duties making sure crews on the ground have the supplies they need

Four San Diego-area firefighters are in Washington helping with rescue efforts after a devastating mud flow has claimed the lives of numerous people, officials said Monday.

Two of those firefighters are from San Diego Fire-Rescue and  one is from the Chula Vista Fire Department said San Diego Fire-Rescue spokesperson Lee Swanson.

The San Marcos Fire Department confirmed a chief was sent from their team to be part of the incident management team. He'll help set up command structure, according to a department spokesperson.

From San Diego, a captain and battalion chief, left for what could be a 21-day stay in Washington.

All are part of CA Urban Search Rescue Task Force 8, a specialized team trained for these kinds of missions.

The four firefighters left San Diego Monday evening. Swanson says they will likely not be working in the unstable areas where the mud flow happened in Oso, Wash. last Saturday.

Rather, they’ll be handling logistic/managerial duties making sure crews on the ground have the supplies they need.

“The people who are part of this specialized team are ready to go on these missions on fairly short notice and they train for it,” Swanson said.

The San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross said it sent two San Diegans who happened to be natives of Washington State to help out in the effort.

One will manage social media and let the public know where they can get help. The other is in charge of fundraising efforts.

The local chapter may be sending more people in the near future, depending on the needs of search crews.

Now, days into the search, the scale of the mudslide's devastation is becoming apparent.

At least 14 people are confirmed dead, dozens more are thought to be unaccounted for or missing, and about 30 homes are destroyed.

"We found a guy right here," shouted a rescuer Monday afternoon behind Young's home, after a golden retriever search dog found a corpse pinned under a pile of fallen trees.

Searchers put a bag over the body, tied an orange ribbon on a branch to mark the site, and the crew moved on.

Ed Hrivnak, who was co-piloting an aircraft that was first to arrive at the scene, said a lot of the houses weren't buried. When they got hit, "the houses exploded." He said cars were crushed into little pieces, their tires the only signs that they had been vehicles.

He said he saw people so thoroughly covered in mud that searchers could only spot them by the whites of their waving palms. His helicopter rescued eight people, including a 4-year-old boy, who was up to his knees in concretelike compressed mud.

The mud was so sticky, the rescuers were worried about getting stuck so the helicopter hovered about a foot away and the crew chief tried to pull him out. "He was suctioned in that mud so much that his pants came off," Hrivnak said.

The boy was taken to a hospital and was reunited with his mom. Hrivnak said the boy's father and three siblings are still missing.

Other missions the California task force has been involved in include rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ernesto in 2008.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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