Oso mudslide touching Peninsula residents in difficult ways
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Larry Nickey, Olympic National Park fire management officer, has taken command of search-and-rescue efforts at the mudslide site.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

The Oso mudslide, miles across two bodies of water from here, continues to touch the lives of North Olympic Peninsula residents, affecting those whose relatives may be lost and those trying to find the lost amid the debris.

Port Angeles Bethany Pentecostal Church Pastor Omer Vigoren planned to travel to Bothell this weekend to visit and comfort his daughter, La Rae deQuilletes, 51, who almost went with her husband to Oso the morning of the mudslide, he said Friday.

Ron, 52, an electrician, was working on a house that was leveled by mud during the debacle March 22.

Neither Ron deQuilletes nor any of the homeowners has been seen since.

“La Rae is holding on and hoping,” said Vigoren, 78.

Tamara Lenzen, 55, of Quilcene has three relatives missing in the slide.

She, too, is holding on, she said Friday.

Lenzen continues to hope that her brother, Thom Satterlee, 65, and grandniece, Delaney Webb, 19, are still alive, she said, although she believes the body of her sister-in-law, Marcy Satterlee, 61, was found by a neighbor amid the wreckage.

Larry Nickey, Olympic National Park fire management officer, is one of hundreds of first-responders looking for deQuilletes and Lenzen's relatives.

The 24-year park employee from Port Angeles took command of search-and-rescue efforts at the mudslide site beginning Saturday at 6 a.m.

He has command over 300 first-responders for the next two weeks.

They include Capts. Derrell Sharp, Chris Turner, Marc Lawson and Brian Swanberg of Sequim-area Clallam County Fire District No. 3.

“Each of our officers has been directly involved with planning daily rescue activities, ordering needed resources or directing crews involved in various operations of the disaster,” fire district spokesman Patrick Young said in a statement.

Time is running out.

Officials conducting operations in Oso, a town of 180, started running survivability predictions Friday that could soon lead to a conversion from search-and-rescue mode to recovery of bodies and remains, Nickey said.

“Right now, it's 100 percent search and rescue,” he said.

“We're hoping someone got trapped in a car and we can uncover them before they pass away.

“We've got people in the field working as hard as they can to try to beat the clock,” Nickey added.

“Survivability is becoming less and less.”

Those waiting for word have not given up hope.

They include La Rae deQuilletes, who graduated from Port Angeles High School in 1980 and met her husband-to-be at Seattle Bible College when she was about 19, Vigoren said.

She and Ron have four children: daughters Ashlee, 29, and Allyn, 27; a son, Arie, 23; and a girl, Audra, 16.

La Rae kept the books for her husband, and sometimes traveled with him to jobs.

La Rae would have joined him in Oso but had to take their daughter to the airport, Vigoren said.

“Otherwise, she'd be missing, too, so thank God she didn't go,” Vigoren said.

“She'd be a goner, too.”

The fateful decision was not lost on his daughter, Vigoren said, getting choked up.

“She said, 'Dad, at least I didn't go, and the kids have at least one parent alive.'”

Vigoren said Ron deQuilletes is a churchgoer and a giving person.

“He was the kind of guy who, if a project needed to be done, he would work on it with whatever he had to give it,” Vigoren said.

“[La Rae] was thinking Ron was on the site trying to rescue people.

“That's the kind of guy he was, that was the kind of heart he had for people and for life.

“He would give of himself without question.”

DeQuilletes also enjoyed hunting, Vigoren said.

“He'd be out there from dark till dark,” he said.

DeQuilletes would become so anxious when he hunted that he would forget to be stealthy.

“I would say, 'Ron, you're going too fast. The deer are standing by, laughing at you,'” Vigoren quipped.

Lenzen said Friday that her hopes of finding her brother and grandniece were dwindling but not gone.

“I'm not going to give up,” she said.

“I can't. I truly believe with all my heart that God can create miracles, and he does every day, so unless they find his body, I'm not going to give up.”

Lenzen's daughter, Anita, 30, and her fiance and two children are living with Lenzen and might not be alive but for another fateful decision.

Lenzen's daughter had put in a bid on a house in the mudslide zone near her uncle's house.

Someone else bought the house — and now it's gone.

“It blew my world away, I can say that,” Anita said Friday.

“Seeing what happened on the news and stuff, that could have been me.

“At the same time, my family is in there.

“That's enough to kind of spook you.

“I would like to know what happened to my family.

“I'm frightened to fall asleep at night.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 30. 2014 1:22PM
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