ARLINGTON, Wash. - Air National Guard Senior Airman Charolette Gibson was picking through debris at the scene of the massive mudslide in nearby Oso on Thursday, working as part of a team alongside residents and relatives of the victims.
"It gives them hope, it gives us hope, and it gives you some perspective on the situation," she said after leaving the mudslide scene for an afternoon news briefing. Helmet in hand, she still wore her fatigues.
About 50 of her teammates have been working through the debris since soon after the Saturday mudslide, wearing waders and walking in single file through muck that she said felt like wet pavement.
They wore Tyvek suits Wednesday, but struggled in the mud and switched to waders, she said.
On Thursday, it was still slow going: The mud was not only thick but unstable.
"You’ll fall through, waist deep in places," Gibson said.
When searchers come across signs of a body, they mark its GPS position, Master Sgt. Chris Martin said. Then commanders send another search team with dogs.
Martin said the search area was still a pile of rubble.
"You really can’t tell a structure is a house," he said. "Once you start finding personal effects, you start focusing your efforts on that area."
He said the team still hoped to find signs of life.
"We’re in rescue mode the entire time. We never give up hope that we’re going to find someone and bring them back alive," he said.