Mudslide survivor saw homes 'explode'

Last updated 15:26 10/04/2014

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Amanda Skorjanc was watching videos with her infant son when the lights in her home started to flicker and shake. She looked outside and saw a terrifying sight: a massive mudslide crashing down the hillside and nearby houses "exploding" from its force.

A neighbour's chimney was barreling toward her door, so Skorjanc gripped her son tightly and turned away.

"I held onto that baby like it was the only purpose that I had," she said. "I did not let that baby go for one second."

When it was over, the powerful river of mud and debris had laid waste to Skorjanc's entire rural Washington community, killing at least 36 people and destroying dozens of homes.

Skorjanc and her baby were among only a few people pulled from the rubble alive. On Wednesday (local time), the 25-year-old mother gave her first interview about the March 22 ordeal from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she remains hospitalized.

Skorjanc is starting to recover physically after several broken bones and six surgeries, but she and her doctor acknowledged the emotional healing will take a very long time. Certain sounds bring Skorjanc right back to that frightening morning.

"If the wind blows too hard. If someone is pushing a bed past me, and it rumbles the floor a bit. It brings back the same sight over and over again," Skorjanc told a pool of reporters from The Daily Herald, KOMO-TV and KIRO Radio.

When the earth stopped moving after the mudslide, Skorjanc was trapped in a pocket formed by her damaged couch and pieces of her roof. She had two broken legs and a broken arm.

Skorjanc said she called out to God to save her and her baby, and prayed rescuers would arrive quickly and find them.

"I started to hear sirens - the most amazing sound I ever heard," she said.

Skorjanc remembers hearing the voices of several men coming to her aid. They lifted her son from her arms and cut her from the debris.

"I had my eyes closed," Skorjanc remembers. "I didn't want to see what was going on. I was scared and in so much pain."

One of her ankles was crushed and might not recover fully. She also suffered injuries to her face, including an eye socket. Her doctor said she will need to be off her feet for another 10 weeks, then likely will struggle to start walking again.

Skorjanc said she considered Oso home, although she grew up in Indiana and has lived in Washington for just the past two years. But she has no plans to return to the rural community 55 miles northeast of Seattle, not even for a visit.

She said she struggles with guilt daily, because she has her family - including her partner, Ty Suddarth, the father of her child - and others who lived in Oso don't. Suddarth had left the house to run an errand when the mudslide hit.

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Dr. Daphne Beinggessner, a University of Washington orthopedic surgeon, operated on Skorjanc three times and estimated her physical injuries will take a year or more to heal.

She added that the recovery of Skorjanc's son, Duke Suddarth, seems to be really making a difference in the young mother's improvement: "As he's been getting better, she's been getting better."

Skorjanc said she will work hard to get better to be there for her son, who is being treated at Seattle Children's Hospital. She said his injuries included a skull fracture. "He's my motivation."

The rest of her energy will go toward giving back to the community.

"I'm so overwhelmed with the amount of love and support we get every day," Skorjanc said. "We will pay it forward for the rest of our lives."

- AP

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