ARLINGTON (REUTERS) - In the terrifying moments after she somehow emerged alive from the wall of mud and debris that swallowed her house, the only possession that Robin Youngblood managed to salvage was a painted portrait that once hung in her now-flattened home.
Youngblood, 63, was herself rescued by helicopter an hour after her home was reduced to "match sticks" by the powerful torrent of thick, gray muck that cascaded into her neighbourhood when a rain-drenched hillside across the river gave way without warning on Saturday.
On Wednesday, four days later, Youngblood came face to face once more with the man who whisked her and a precious family heirloom to safety from the rubble of her home northeast of Seattle.
She and crew chief Randy Fay of the Snohomish County helicopter rescue team embraced in a tearful reunion during an afternoon news conference in the town of Arlington, site of a command post for search teams looking for scores more people still missing in the slide that engulfed dozens of homes near the river valley hamlet of Oso.
Speaking to reporters, Fay recounted that Youngblood, who he found covered in mud when he was lowered to her by winch from his hovering chopper, handed him the painting and asked him to save it for her. He said he returned the artwork, a portrait of an individual in traditional Native American dress, to Youngblood once she was safely loaded into the helicopter.
"It's poignant because their whole house is around them," he said. "That's kind of all she's got left ... I'm really glad we could do that."
Recounting her ordeal in a separate CNN interview, Youngblood recalled hearing a loud roar before looking out a window to glimpse a torrent of mud racing toward her house.
She said the slide struck with such force that her house was knocked from its foundation and carried a quarter mile as it instantly filled with mud and water, imersing her in the muck.
Fortunately, the roof also was ripped open, allowing her to clamour out of the mud to escape, she said.
The whole episode lasted just 30 seconds, she estimated.
Miraculously, Youngblood emerged mostly unscathed, suffering a minor finger injury, "lots of bruises" and a sore back. Her jewelry and eyeglasses even stayed on somehow, she said.
Youngblood, a member of a Pacific Northwest tribe known as the Okanagan who describes herself as a "shamanic practitioner", had not seen Fay since that painful day and came to the news conference to publicly thank him for rescuing her.
"That was really special," Youngblood said afterwards. "I didn't know if I'd ever see him again."