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Washington mudslide stirs Chilliwack memories

Doug Ware outside his Elk View Road home six days after a wall of mud came crashing through his house on Jan. 8, 2009. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
Doug Ware outside his Elk View Road home six days after a wall of mud came crashing through his house on Jan. 8, 2009.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

The devastating mudslide in Washington State has one Chilliwack family recalling their own mudslide misery.

Doug Ware doesn’t like to think about that horrendous morning four and a half years ago, but his wife Jennifer says it’s impossible not to with slide scenes from Snohomish County splashed all over the TV since Saturday.

In the early hours of Jan. 8, 2009, the Wares were startled awake by a thunderous crack booming through their Ryder Lake home, shaking it like a massive earthquake would, and then seconds later the sound no parent wants to hear – their daughter in the room below screaming at the top of her lungs.

A current of mud and rocks had crashed through then 20-year-old Heather Sye’s bedroom window, large rocks narrowly missing her head, the force throwing her from her bed. By the time her parents reached her, all that was visible were the whites of her eyes.

“I don’t like to go there, it’s pretty traumatizing,” said Doug. “If you let yourself go back there, the adrenaline starts to rush. It’s really scary stuff.”

Still, Jennifer has felt magnetized to the TV every time a story of the recent slide comes on.

On March 22, after days of heavy rain, a massive mudslide washed through a small fishing village in Snohomish County, about 90 kilometres northeast of Seattle, destroying approximately 30 homes. As of Thursday 25 were confirmed dead, 90 missing, and 35 whose status is unknown.

“It makes me realize even more how lucky we were,” said Jennifer. “That we managed to escape anybody getting hurt seriously, except for the dog of course.”

The family’s 14-year-old dog Ricki was found dead in the garage days later, buried under mud.

Scenes on the news have had Jennifer remembering little things, like the deep freeze flattened down to six inches, or the trees in their backyard uprooted and mud-stained.

“People don’t realize how powerful a mudslide is,” she said. “It’s so heavy it will just squash anything in its path.”

Doug’s heart goes out to the American community.

“We know what it’s like to go through a mudslide, but it’s nothing like what they’re going through,” he said. “I wish I could go and help them. I wish we had the resources.”

The Wares settled out-of-court with the City last year, and after hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of renovations and repairs, their house is still not completely back to where it was pre-slide.

The family is convinced their mudslide was not a natural disaster, but a poorly built

drainage system on Ryder Lake Road, between Ross Road and Elk View Road, with ditches not deep enough to handle the heavy rain.

“It was something that was waiting to happen and we didn’t know,” said Doug.

And Heather?

For several months following the mudslide she lived in her own personal hell. Diagnosed with post-traumatic syndrome, she spent months in therapy. She couldn’t sleep at night, every time she closed her eyes, she saw the mud caking her body, the rocks crashing all around. She repeatedly played the ‘What if?’ game.

What if she didn’t make it out alive.

But today, now 26, she has a masters in international development, has travelled abroad, and is currently working for a financial advising company in Qatar, located on the Arabian Peninsula.

“She’s pretty strong,” boasted her mom.

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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