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Washington mudslide buried the love of his life, sitting beside him

A flag, put up by volunteers helping search the area, stands in the ruins.

AP

A flag, put up by volunteers helping search the area, stands in the ruins.

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 Arlington, Wash., 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 going across the pasture. … He took six breaths and calmed himself down. He thought, and he started digging."

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

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."

Linda McPherson, the retired head librarian for the small town of Darrington, died in the mudslide that occurred about 11 a.m. and 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.

Wednesday night, authorities reduced to 90 the number of people missing, as the families and friends of those still unaccounted for begin to confront the reality that some may never be found. An additional eight bodies have been located but were not recovered Wednesday, Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said, leaving the official body count at 16.

Linda McPherson's body was the first.

Contributing: Associated Press

Washington mudslide buried the love of his life, sitting beside him 03/26/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:33pm]
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