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Mudslide 911 caller recalls horror, expects recovery

OSO, Wash.—One of the first 911 calls after the mudslide in this small town about an hour north of Seattle came from Marla Jupp.

Jupp, 63, is a retired teacher’s assistant, scion of a large local family that has lived in the Oso Valley along the Stillaguamish River for generations. They're the Skaglunds, and she still lives at the bottom of Skaglund Hill on State Route 530.

She was at home a week ago Saturday when she heard what sounded like a big truck rumbling by shortly before 11 a.m., "like the wind was blowing real hard, like we had big gusts."

Then her power went out.

Jupp walked into her front yard, where the electrical lines were swaying — but there was no wind.

She saw a pickup truck heading east stop in front of her house. So she looked in that direction, she said, "And I saw the mess."

Mud had overtaken State Route 530, now awash in debris "like a tide." Perched atop the pile was the roof of a neighbor’s house that used to belong to her aunt and uncle.

The pickup truck driver had emerged, and was using his cellphone to make a video of the scene.

"We could hear somebody crying," Jupp said.

It sounded like a baby.

That's when she called 911.

A trio of men arrived, one of whom looked like a lumberjack, big and burly. He heard the crying, and a woman screaming for help, and became determined to venture into the muck.

A couple of firefighters advised against it.

"They told him not to go through the mud. He said, 'Screw you, I'm going. I hear somebody crying and it’s a baby,' " Jupp said.

Moments later, she watched the stranger carry the baby boy out of the debris. His mother was still stuck — in a couch the mudslide had hurled to an alder tree, suspended 15 feet above ground.

She had stopped screaming. Her baby was safe.

Rescuers eventually freed her too — using a chain saw to cut away the couch, Jupp said.

More firefighters arrived soon after. One of them, a friend whose wife was missing, asked for Jupp's help in navigating the woods to check on his house in the Steelhead Haven area.

Jupp showed him a path across a creek and into the devastated neighborhood, where he discovered his house was gone — along with his wife and 4-month-old granddaughter.

"I could hear him screaming, and I knew it was bad," she said.

Firefighters set up camp in her yard, and she visits them daily, offering help. On Saturday, she brought them what they asked for: two boxes of leather work gloves.

Her house is part of the scene, shielded from public access by a barricade on State Route 530. But Jupp, who writes for a monthly newspaper in nearby Darrington, the Concrete Herald, regularly posts photographs and updates on Facebook.

As of Saturday, the death toll was 18, with an additional body found but not identified and 30 more still missing. She knows one of the dead, a woman whose husband is still at Harborview Medical Center. She may know some more at the hospital, or some of the missing, she said, but it's hard to tell since officials have yet to release a list of names.

Up the road from Jupp's house, Oso Chapel is scheduled to host a community service on Sunday morning.

The church set up a cross on State Route 530 covered in flowers. They plan to add a plaque with names once all of the victims are identified.

Jupp hopes more of the mudslide area is turned into a memorial to those who were lost.

"The people need to be remembered," she said.

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