They’ve been told to stay away, but rogue volunteers have been heading out to the site of the Oso mudslide, without permission or designation as a “volunteer,” day after day.
“The real story is the determination of the people of the Stillaguamish Valley in pushing forward against the roadblocks of the authority,” said Washington state Representative Elizabeth Scott.
Scott told Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross that citizen volunteers with emergency and rescue backgrounds were being turned away from helping.
KIRO Radio’s Brandi Kruse spent time with some of these rogue volunteers, many of whom have a special set of skills that are vital to the search effort.
Tanner Skagland has been putting his trade to good use, using the tool he works with every day, a chainsaw, to search through piles of debris.
He’s not the only one. Also being run by local volunteers are heavy pieces of machinery, used to move cars out of areas where victims could be trapped, allowing specialized crews like Washington Task Force 1 to get to areas where there could be survivors.
But it’s the rogue, unregistered citizens who have been finding slide victims, Scott insisted.
“You know who was it that went out and got that baby? That was a citizen. Who was it finding the body? It was the citizens who are saying, ‘Hey, there are two bodies over here, there are four more bodies over here’ It’s the citizens. It’s that story that needs to be told.”
Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin organized a project being completed by locals using their own equipment and donations to build a gravel road that has turned a muddy path into one that searchers can use to get themselves and their heavy equipment to the debris field.
“I think the most important part are the machines over there because all the people that are operating the machines over there are loggers,” Tanner told Kruse. “It takes something to know how to operate a machine out there without getting stuck or breaking stuff. And we’re just trying to get it done the most fast and efficient way.”
Scott said the people of Darrington are grateful, but they haven’t been impressed by the some of the “political photo ops” taken of Washington leaders.
“(The people of Darrington were) put down and dismissed by the low number [of people found] that was released on Saturday, Sunday and Monday because they themselves had seen more bodies than that by the end of the day Saturday,” Scott said.
Unregistered volunteers recognize they have been told not to head out to the debris field on their own volition because of safety concerns. Scott said officials in various levels of government are afraid of lawsuits.
Still, for volunteers like Tanner’s father Steve, whether it’s volunteering officially or unofficially, it doesn’t change their desire to help. “I think like everybody else we’ve talked to, it’s just something that has to be done. You can’t be anywhere else but here, under the circumstances.”
KIRO Radio’s Brandi Kruse and Dave Ross, and MyNorthwest.com’s Alyssa Kleven contributed to this report.