Former Alaskans among missing in Washington mudslide

Tegan Hanlon

The names of two former Alaska residents are written among the list of Washington state's missing, Sunday, after a huge mudslide flattened homes and killed at least eight people about 50 miles north of Seattle.

Julie Farnes and her son, Adam, were home Saturday morning when a nearby hillside fell onto their tiny neighborhood in Snohomish County. Friends and family have called the Farnes' cell phones and written messages online begging for a response, but their efforts had yielded only silence Sunday evening.

Richard Urton, the youngest brother of Julie Farnes, said he was losing hope Sunday afternoon as hours passed without any information and the death toll steadily rose. "She was just the best sister a guy could ask for," he said, pausing to stop tears.

Farnes only lived in the one-story home tucked in rural Washington for about a year when the mudslide struck. Before that, she spent decades in the small fishing village of Cordova, about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage, Urton said.

"My sister never met a stranger, just new friends," he said.

She traveled from California to Cordova in the early 1980s with intentions to visit one of her brothers and wound up meeting his co-worker Jerry Farnes, a man she'd later marry. She decided to move north, Urton said.

For decades, she delivered packages as the town's only UPS contractor while her husband worked for the local electric company. Together they raised three boys before deciding to retire to Washington in their late 50s.

"I think everybody in Cordova would know who the Farnes were if you were to ask them," said Becki Shipman, a 43-year-old resident, describing the family as "happy-go-lucky."

Over the weekend, a telephone chain circled around Cordova asking the 2,000 or so residents to pray for the Farnes' safety, Shipman said. She said Adam Farnes, in his early 20s, used to be a police dispatcher in town. He was nice, funny and quiet, she said.

Efforts by the Anchorage Daily News to contact the Farnes family were unsuccessful Sunday evening.

Jerry Farnes was away from the house the morning of the mudslide. Urton said he first heard about the mudslide's impacts from Farnes. "He knows his neighborhood is completely gone, just wiped down to nothing," Urton said about conversations with Farnes. "He said it looks like the surface of the moon."

Kellie Howe lives in Darrington, a town near the Farnes' Washington home. "It's not looking good," she said Sunday. "It's just... it's unbelievable."

A friend of Adam Farnes, she said she tried to contact him repeatedly. She visited the shelter to look for him, adding his name along with his mother's to the Red Cross list of the missing.

"I've just been trying to call his phone, hoping that he'd pick up sometime. I started calling him yesterday and I called him all night just in case and he's not answering," she said.

Urton said he hasn't set down his phone for two days, scanning news reports and reaching out to family. "There needs to be some closure," he said.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.