Nation

Landslide survivor: 'I turned and screamed out to God to save us'

NationAvalanches and LandslidesDisasters and AccidentsHuman Interest

SEATTLE — A broken leg. A shattered ankle. A broken arm. A fractured eye socket. And a memory of terror that will be with her forever, its soundtrack an "unexplainable" noise "that will never get out of my head."

That is what Amanda Skorjanc, 25, remembers after the March 22 Oso landslide that destroyed her home, almost wiped her little town off the map and nearly killed her infant son, Duke Suddarth, who was 22 weeks old when the disaster struck. At least 36 people were killed and 10 others remain missing.

Tearful and halting, her mouth numb from her injuries, Skorjanc described the ordeal Wednesday from her bed at Harborview Medical Center, where she has undergone half a dozen surgeries. Of the victims hospitalized after the disaster, Skorjanc is the first to speak publicly about the deadly slide, which she said "was like a movie."

"I just saw houses exploding," she told reporters, and the mass of mud "was coming to me. That's when I saw my neighbor's house coming at me. I turned and screamed out to God to save us. It got dark around us, and it was throwing us all over the place."

Skorjanc and her baby had been watching YouTube videos in the kitchen of their Oso home, about an hour north of Seattle. Ty Suddarth, her partner and Duke's father, had just given the two "a family hug" and driven off to the hardware store in Darrington, northeast on State Route 530 and out of the danger zone.

The slide left a square mile of quicksand-like mud and debris. Skorjanc's couch and recliner had broken around her and her son, protecting them. They were in "this little cushioned pocket," she said, 600 to 700 feet from where her house had been moments earlier.

Duke was filthy and blue and "I thought I was losing him." He lay limp on her chest, and she tried to "give him little rubs." Skorjanc didn't know it at the time, but her son had a fractured skull.

"I would say, 'Stay with me, bud,'" Skorjanc recounted Wednesday, "and ask God not to take him in front of me…. I'll never get the image out of [my head], him just laying with me. That will stay with me forever."

When everything had settled, a pillow ended up near the injured mother and child. Skorjanc said she found a hole in the debris and formulated a plan.

"I figured if I put this pillow outside the hole and put Duke on it, if I didn't make it, they would find him," she said. "But I couldn't move him. My arm was too broke to move."

A photo of Skorjanc taken before the slide shows a doting, round-faced new mother, cradling her clean and sweetly sleeping infant, proudly wearing a necklace with his name spelled out in cursive letters.

On Wednesday, her left arm was bandaged. Her left eye was bruised and half-closed. Intravenous lines fed into her neck. She leaned back against the white sheets with an armada of medical equipment arrayed behind her.

Her attending physician, Dr. Daphne Beingessner, told reporters that Skorjanc's ordeal was "one of the worst things I've seen someone go through. She will take a long time to recover from the emotional scars."

Not to mention the physical ones. Skorjanc will have to learn to walk again, said Beingessner, a University of Washington orthopedic surgeon. It will take "a good year to be as good as she will get, or a little longer."

When the sirens began to wail in the slide's aftermath, Skorjanc said, it was "the most amazing sound I ever heard." Rescuers began to arrive in the battered neighborhood, shouting for survivors.

Duke began to cry. Skorjanc stuck her hand out of a hole in the wreckage and waved for help. She told the rescuers her son was 5 months old. He was the first survivor to be airlifted from the slide.

Rescuers eventually cut Skorjanc out of the rubble, put her on a helicopter and sent her to a local hospital.

After she was transferred to Harborview, the surgeries began. Three plates were implanted in her left arm, which had broken in two places, she said. Titanium mesh was placed in her left eye socket to repair an orbital fracture. She has rods in her right leg and screws in her left ankle.

Skorjanc said she was deeply grateful to her rescuers. But she struggles every day with the enormity of the disaster. She will not move back to Oso, she said.

"I'm working at the guilt and other feelings," Skorjanc said, with Suddarth at her side and Duke in satisfactory condition across town at Seattle Children's Hospital.

"Families not making it. Us being blessed enough to have all three of us together. I'm so blessed, and at the same time, I feel guilty that I have my family, and some don't."

maria.laganga@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
NationAvalanches and LandslidesDisasters and AccidentsHuman Interest
Comments
Loading