Longtime Alaskans still missing after Washington mudslide

Tegan Hanlon

The whereabouts of a mother and her son, once longtime Alaska residents, remained unknown Tuesday evening after a mudslide flattened their Washington neighborhood, killing at least 16.

Julie and Adam Farnes had only lived in the one-story home on Steelhead Drive in Snohomish County for about a year when the hillside gave way Saturday morning and the two stopped answering their phones. Since then, family and friends say they haven't stopped hoping and searching for updates as responders continue to pull out bodies.

"It's getting harder as the days go by," said 38-year-old Kellie Howe, a friend of Adam Farnes who lives about 15 miles from the destruction and has repeatedly posted messages online pleading with Farnes to respond. Her 22-year-old brother traversed the debris Tuesday, looking for friends and family, but found no one, she said. "You can see the devastation in their faces when they come back from searching and it's really horrible, it's horrific. It's everything, everything is gone. "

There are 176 names on the list of people still unaccounted for and reports of 49 homes destroyed. Search teams dug and paddled through mud on Tuesday, under threat of flash floods or another landslide. They uncovered bodies and the death toll climbed. Phone calls to emergency responders were not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

Howe first met Farnes through her younger brother. She said her friend plays banjo and guitar and is just "a really great person."

Farnes grew up in the small fishing village of Cordova with two brothers and his parents, Julie and Jerry Farnes. In his early 20s, he moved south with his recently-retired parents to the tiny, rural Washington neighborhood. His father was away from the home the day the mudslide hit.

Richard Urton, the brother of Julie Farnes, said Tuesday that he just bought a one-way ticket from his home in Missouri to stay with Jerry Farnes in Washington. Urton said his brother-in-law told him the land where the Farnes' house once stood now "looks like the surface of the moon."

Until his flight leaves Thursday, Urton said he can't put down his phone. When it buzzes, he jumps. When he can't find it, he panics. "I want to throw this thing so far away from me and never see it again," he said. "But if I throw it, I'd be chasing it and catching it before it hits the ground because I want to know if somebody has found my sister."

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.