Former Maui resident Robin Youngblood heard a "horrendous sound" as she and a student sat in her mobile home in Washington state two weeks ago.
"I thought it was a 747 going to crash into the valley. Then we looked out the window."A more than 20-foot wall of mud was heading toward Youngblood's mobile home in the rural community of Oso in Snohomish County.
"We didn't have time to say anything (but) 'Oh my God.' Then it hit us," said the 63-year-old Youngblood, recalling the mudslide that killed at least 30 on March 22 northeast of Seattle.
"We felt a slam, and then we were moving. We were under mud and water," she said, adding that the house moved and mud filled their mouths and any other orifices.
Then the house stopped moving, and Youngblood was able to poke her head up from the mud.
She looked for her student friend, Jetty Dooper, who was under a tree limb, and told the student: "Even if you're hurt you got to get up."
Eventually the two were able to cling to a roof and waited for help.
A neighbor's home was spared. Little children ran outside about to touch the mud that had engulfed Youngblood's home. But Youngblood told the children to stay away and call 911 to get a helicopter to rescue them. Within one hour the two were saved.
This is the story that Youngblood has told "a lot" of times to world, national and local media. She was finally able to accommodate an interview with The Maui News on Friday.
While on Maui, Youngblood lived primarily in Haiku and Makawao for 16 years before moving back to be with family in Washington state two years ago.
"Sometimes I'm fine; sometimes I'm falling apart," Youngblood said of her emotional state in a phone interview.
Physically, she is "battered and bruised all over," she said.
Her back is sore, and she also has issues with ligaments in her right middle finger.
Youngblood also coughed throughout the interview.
She suffers from bronchitis stemming from being exposed to the mudslide and water so cold that she and Dooper suffered from hypothermia. Dooper, a Dutch national, was on her way back to the Netherlands last week.
On Thursday, Youngblood was allowed back to the site of the flood, where she said mud was 60 feet deep.
"It was really horrible," she said. "My home is just matchsticks" as searchers rummaged through debris.
Rescue workers were able to find Youngblood's American Indian dress. (She is of Cherokee and Okanagan Indian descent.)
But Youngblood was not able to retrieve her "regalia" right away because it needs to be decontaminated from mud, oil, other chemicals and bodily fluids brought down by the mudslide.
But one thing Youngblood has in her hands from home is a painting called "Wolf Vision."
The painting floated up between her and Dooper while they were waiting for help.
Youngblood said the artist has offered to clean the painting, but she is hesitant.
"I'm not sure we want to. This showed what happened," she said of the painting that is stained with mud.
Only the painting and her dress are what remain from the mobile home that also doubled as Youngblood's church, Church of the Earth, which is taking donations for survivors of the mudslide.
Youngblood is the reverend of the church that is a nondenominational community with its beliefs and principles of indigenous eco- and earth-based spirituality, according to its website.
The website, www.churchoftheearth.org, is also where tax-deductible donations may be made, Youngblood said.
The donations will go to survivors like herself, who need to find new places to live.
Currently, Youngblood, her daughter, son-in-law and grandson are living in a hotel room far from their home and relatives.
Her daughter, son-in-law and grandson were out of the home during the mudslide.
Other survivors Youngblood would like to help include her neighbors where a family lost their father, two sons and a daughter. The mother and a 4-year-old child survived.
"We are all helping each other out," she said.
Youngblood said she would like to be closer to family in the communities of Darrington and Arlington, Wash., which were impacted by the slide. Her Cherokee ancestors helped establish the Darrington community.
But as for her rural lifestyle, where people could walk near the river and look into the eyes of deer, that life is gone.
"Nobody is going to . . . ever live in that valley again," she said.
Looking back, Youngblood said, "I don't blame Mother Nature for this. This was a human-created catastrophe."
"The mountain has been unstable for many, many, years. . . . Most of us didn't have any idea that the potential for that kind of slide was possible," she said.
Youngblood said reports have surfaced that the state of Washington had a geology report from the 1990s that there was a possibility that a "catastrophic" event could happen.
"We weren't told that."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this story.