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Terror after landslide: 'Can you tell me what happened?'

Terror after landslide: 'Can you tell me what happened?'
CNN
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 9:53pm

 There was little in the way of a warning before the rain-saturated ground in Washington's Cascade Mountains gave way, sending a wall of mud through a portion of the towns of Oso and Darrington.

With as many as 24 dead and up to 176 people unaccounted for in the massive landslide that struck Saturday, search and rescue crews are digging through rocks, dirt and debris that are up to 20 feet deep in some places in what has become a race against time to find survivors.

As the search goes on, the stories of those who escaped and those who are searching for loved ones have begun to emerge:

'Tapping underneath'

It was a 911 call at about 10:45 a.m. that first alerted authorities to a problem on State Route 530, a well-traveled two-lane road that connects rural mountain communities.

"It is really flooding bad," the caller said. "... There's a roof of a house on the road."

Then there was another call. And another.

Within minutes, authorities knew this was something bigger than just a flooded, blocked roadway.

One minute, Michael Landon told a 911 dispatcher, his neighbor's house and a house on the other side of it were there. The next, they were gone.

"I am standing in the area now, and I can hear them tapping underneath and yelling at us," he told a 911 dispatcher.

Asked how many people he could hear, Landon said two.

"There should be three people in this house. We are trying to find the other," he said.

Still others appeared to be struggling to understand what had happened.

"Everything is gone. The houses are gone," a woman screamed into the telephone.

"...What happened? Can you tell me what happened?"

The answer from the dispatcher: "Landslide."

'They went together'

The last time Nichole Rivera heard from her daughter, Delaney Webb, was through a Facebook post on Saturday morning.

Her daughter and her fiance were staying at Rivera's parents' home, the same place where the couple had planned to wed in August.

When she couldn't reach any of them by telephone, Rivera flew from her suburban Houston, Texas, home to Washington to try to find answers.

As each hour ticked by, with still no word, Rivera believes her worst fear has been realized.

"If you've seen the maps, and you've seen the extent of the devastation, and the consistency of the mud, I can tell you with great soundness they're not going to find my parents, or daughter, or her fiance," she told CNN. "I really feel that they're gone."

Her only focus now is to grieve with her family, her friends and her community, she said.

Rivera's aunt, Debbie Satterlee, is still coming to terms with the idea her brother, sister-in-law and niece may never be found.

"It would be great to great to have a body," Rivera said "But if we can't we can't, they're in the right spot."

Rivera's parents had planned to put a family funeral plot on the property.

'He's a fighter'

At first, La Rae deQuilettes didn't worry when her husband, an electrician, didn't come home on Saturday.

When she first heard about the landslide, she believed it was in the Bellingham area -- well north of where her husband was working a job.

Ron was just working late, she told herself.

He had even sent her a text message that morning, telling his wife of 31 years that he had arrived at the job.

But by early Sunday morning, when he hadn't returned to their Bothell home, she figured out her mistake. Her husband was working in Oso, the same place where the landslide struck.

"It's a living nightmare," she said.

She is trying to keep it together for their four children, praying that maybe her husband found an air pocket or is somewhere waiting for rescuers.

"He's a fighter," she said. "He's tall and strong. He has a heart in him like there's no tomorrow."

Police, she says, have told her that the couple who hired her husband are also among the missing.

'Keep believing'

Somewhere in the mud and debris is William Welsh.

The last time his wife, Barbara Welsh, saw him he was headed out to help someone in Oso install a water tank.

"My husband is a survivor, and I believe in him," Barbara Welsh said. "And that's all you can do is keep believing."

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