Former Washington County man missing after Washington state mudslide
The search for survivors of a deadly Washington state mudslide grew on Monday to include scores of people who were still unaccounted for as the death toll from the wall of trees, rocks and debris that swept through a rural community rose to at least 14.
In trying to find loved ones, family members and neighbors used chain saws and their bare hands to dig through wreckage that was tangled by the mud into broken piles.
A former Washington County man and much of his family are among the missing, the man's family said.
Billy Spillers, 30, a 2001 graduate of Chartiers-Houston Junior-Senior High School in Houston, and three of his four young children are unaccounted for, said his relative Billie Spillers of Clackamas, Ore. She identified them as Jovon Mangual, 13, a boy; and Kaylee Spillers, 5, and Brook Spillers, 2, both girls.
“He is a strong and wonderful man. My nieces and nephew are beautiful, innocent souls that are resting in God's hands, I'm sure,” Billie Spillers wrote in a message to the Tribune-Review.
She said Spillers worked for the Navy, where he listed his position as a command career counselor.
Spillers' wife, Jonielle Spillers, wrote on Facebook that her husband was at the couple's Arlington, Wash., home with their children when mud rushed in Saturday. She could not be reached but posted on the social network that “our whole neighborhood is gone.”
Rescuers pulled the Spillers' son Jacob, 4, from the mud and debris, Jonielle Spillers wrote.
“Please dear God pray” for the missing, she wrote.
Others close to the family indicated they wanted military clearance before speaking with reporters. A Navy representative near the mudslide site in Snohomish County did not respond to an inquiry.
Emergency officials in Snohomish County would not confirm the names of those reported missing, a county spokeswoman said.
A fundraising campaign set up at YouCaring.com to support the Spillers collected more than $6,000 by Monday evening. The campaign listed more than 100 supporters.
“Billy is the most dedicated person I have ever met,” said Eduardo Arteaga, 30, of Greenwich, Conn., a Navy officer who served with Billy Spillers on deployments that took them to Spain, Turkey and Italy.
In a written message from overseas, Arteaga said Spillers sacrificed for his family and valued education. Spillers noted on Facebook that he studied at Strayer University, although a school spokesman could not immediately confirm that.
Authorities said they were looking for more than 100 people who had not been heard from since the disaster about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. They predicted that the number of missing would decline as more people are found safe. But the startling initial length of the list added to the anxieties two days after a mile-wide layer of soft earth crashed onto a cluster of homes at the bottom of a river valley.
“The situation is very grim,” Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said, stressing that authorities are still in rescue mode and are holding out hope. But he noted: “We have not found anyone alive on this pile since Saturday.”
The mudslide struck on Saturday morning, a time when most people are at home. Of the 49 structures in the neighborhood, authorities believe at least 25 were full-time residences.
An overnight search of the debris field turned up no other bodies, Hots said. Monday's search was to include aircraft, dogs and heavy equipment.
Frustrations were growing as family members and neighbors waited for official word on the missing and the dead. Elaine Young and her neighbors uncovered several bodies Sunday and had to contact authorities to get them removed.
They also found a chocolate Labrador named Buddy alive, and helped pull the dog from the rubble, leading her to wonder if other survivors could be out there, desperate for help.
“If we found a dog alive yesterday afternoon that we cut out of a part of a house, doesn't that seem that maybe somebody could be stuck up under part of a house and be alive too?” asked Young, whose home survived the slide but was on the edge of the devastation.
Authorities believe Saturday's slide was caused by recent heavy rains that made the terrain unstable.
From the beginning, rescue crews on the ground have faced dangerous and unpredictable conditions as they navigated quicksand-like mud that was 15 feet deep in some places. Some who went in got caught up to their armpits in the thick, sticky sludge.
Trib Total Media staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.