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Two years ago, the Langton family was forced to flee after a 2,000-acre fire in eastern Washington state nearly gutted their home. Unharmed, they looked for greener pastures. They chose a quiet, rural community outside of Oso.
But that calm was shattered Saturday when a mile-long landslide pulverized homes and sent trees, mud and debris everywhere, killing at least 16 people with the death toll only expected to rise.
Now, Kris and LoAnna Langton and their four young children can walk away again from a major disaster — shaken but having survived.
“I’m just so grateful we’re alive,” LoAnna Langton told NBC News on Thursday.
Langton’s kids and three of their friends were playing in the yard when the slide struck. From a distance, she could see the trees and debris bulldozing down the hillside.
“It looked like dominos coming at us,” she said.
She gathered the children, including her 3-month-old son, along with her mother and her great aunt, and raced back inside. Her husband wasn't home at the time.
“I thought I was taking all the kids to the back bedroom for all of us to die,” Langton said. “I wanted us to be together.”
But, miraculously, the slide stopped at the border of the rental home’s property. Flooding from the slide damaged the structure but everyone inside was unharmed.
Langton went outside and heard screaming. She frantically called 911 when she found a neighbor with an injured arm. Another person helped Langton clear her driveway so that she could gather her family, pile them in their Suburban and head for safer ground.
She then called her husband. Kris Langton, 31, who said he wasn’t sure what his wife was saying, but he drove home to make sure his family was OK.
When he arrived to the neighborhood, he found an apocalyptic scene. The air was putrid. His body immediately became covered in thick mud.
“Every house you get to smells like gas and propane and dead animal,” he said.
After realizing his family was safe, Kris Langton slogged through the muck to help as many people as he could. He helped rescue four others, including a 6-month-old baby, trapped by debris.
What kept him going, he said, was thinking about his children.
“I want to lead by example. ... No one’s going to do anything if you’re all sitting on the sidelines,” Langton said.
The family is currently living in their landlord's basement. They're still looking for a permanent home, but they take comfort in knowing they still have each other.
“I feel that God has plans for our family,” LoAnna Langton said.
— Erik Ortiz