Mudslide came like a ‘tornado’

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ARLINGTON, Washington: First, there was a roar. Then the trees began to twist. The last thought Gary “Mac” McPherson had before blacking out was that a tornado had struck the Stillaguamish Valley.

The 81-year-old McPherson and his wife, Linda, 69, had been spending the sun-filled Saturday morning side by side, reading The Everett Herald and sipping caffeine—Diet Coke for her, coffee for him—when the landslide slammed into the home they had shared for most of their 46-year marriage.

When McPherson woke up, he was still sitting upright in his heavy wooden chair. But their house in a rural enclave about an hour’s drive north from Seattle had been pushed 150 yards. His chair was crushed around him. A ceiling beam lay across his lap.

And he was almost completely encased in mud, so cold that he was beyond shivering. All he could move was his right arm.


“He doesn’t remember the impact of the mud,” daughter Kate McPherson said, recounting her father’s ordeal. He doesn’t remember the house oing across the pasture . . . He took ix breaths and calmed himself down. He thought, and he started digging,” she added.

The chair saved McPherson in more ways than one. Its arms, tall and strong, kept falling debris from breaking his legs. And when the chair shattered, it provided him with a sharp stick that he used to dig through the thick, cold mud.

“Before he heard people coming, he was able to dig a hole and see the sky,” said Kate McPherson, 38.

“The whole time, he was calling for my mom, who was right next to him, but she never responded,” she added.

McPherson’s daughter stopped, tearful. “I’m hoping that meant she went quick,” she said. “He doesn’t know how long it took from when it hit him and when he regained consciousness and started to dig,” she further said.

Linda McPherson, the retired head librarian for the small town of Darrington, died in the mudslide, which left a square mile of mud and debris in a region she loved and lived in all her life. It carved a scar taller than the Washington Monument into the hillside.

By Tuesday night, emergency workers had recovered 16 bodies from the mire. Hers was the first.

Mac McPherson spent a few days in the hospital because the slide had damaged muscles in his legs, his daughter said.

Emergency workers were amazed, she said, that he escaped with a bump on his head but no broken bones. He is in seclusion with his extended family.

“He’s physically doing pretty good,” said Kate McPherson, a special education teacher. “But he lost the love of his life. They were married 46 years. Emotionally, he can’t believe this is happening. He’s going to have to start life all over again,” she added.

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