Sierra Sansaver, 18, and her boyfriend drove into the tiny town of Oso, Wash., about 55 miles northeast of Seattle, and witnessed a chilling scene after a wall of mud came careening down a mountain slope, causing quicksand-like conditions that have hampered rescue efforts.
Here, in her own words, Sansaver recounts to PEOPLE a scene of confusion and heartbreak:
“We were driving down Highway 530 and my boyfriend needed gas for his truck. Thank God he did or we’d probably be dead right now. We were the second car on the scene. I thought there’d been a car wreck at first. Then we just saw this house and a barn in the middle of the road, torn to pieces with their belongings thrown all around. It had been moved about 200 yards. All the other houses around had been buried.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Nothing was standing up. All the trees were tilted. And the whole time we were there, you could hear this big rumbling sound. I’d never heard anything like it and then I realized it was the mud literally sliding.”
“After awhile I heard this blood-curdling scream. It made me feel sick to hear it. I didn’t know what to think. It was coming from out in the distance where the mud was deep, but no one was going over toward it. It was just too dangerous … People were wandering around traumatized … This is the kind of place where you think nothing bad could ever happen”
“The firemen showed up about 15 minutes later and someone ran up and said, ‘There’s a child in there. Are you going to do anything?’ The firemen eventually laid down pieces of debris and walked out over it, over the mud and pulled the baby out. They brought it back to where I was standing. It was blue and silent. I wasn’t sure if it was alive or not. They put it in an ambulance and sped off.”
• Reporting by JOHNNY DODD