The sole survivor of last weeks deadly Wrangell landslide, Christina Florshutz spoke in a joint conversation with KSTK reporter Colette Czarnecki and the Wrangell Sentinel reporter Caroleine James from her hospital bed.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Christina Florschutz: I had gone upstairs, which is important to the story, to take a shower because I like the shower up there. And I’d just gotten out of the shower and I was still just in my undies. And I heard this horrible noise, very loud noise and I recognized it. I’ve heard tornadoes. I’ve heard a mudslide before. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t have any warning. I heard the noise. And suddenly I’m like a piece of weightless popcorn being tossed around all over the places, slamming into things and everything. And then I don’t remember any more for a while. Apparently I was out for a little while.
And I could look, and my heart was just pounding and I was, I had so much adrenaline but I look and I could see some tree limbs. I was underneath this shelf edge that I figured out by feeling that it was part of the Styrofoam roof of the house. And that’s why the upstairs is important, because I was way up high and it was canted at an angle. And then there was a bunch of debris piled right here. But there was just enough room for me underneath there. I was getting rained on and it was very windy and I kept telling myself, “You can breathe, you’re not – you saw the tree, you’re not buried. You must be near the top of the pile, wherever it is.”
And I had no idea it was that big of a slide at that point. I touched a plastic bag ,and I instantly knew what it was, because I had a large plastic bag up there in my sewing room, which was upstairs. It was full polar fleece yardage. Right then and there, I knew I was going to live. I was going to live. I was meant to live. God put that there for me so that I wouldn’t die from hypothermia. So I squirmed back underneath there, and I untied the bag and pulled the polar fleece kind of up over me, and then pulled back over me to try and shield me from some of the rain anyway. And proceeded to wait until morning.
It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t fun. I got terribly cold, and I had awful leg cramps. I was screaming with the leg cramps at times. And during the night, it was still really dark. I heard a very strange thump, thump, thump. “What is that?” At first I thought it was somebody poking through the wreckage with a pole or something. And I’m hollering out, “Hey, I’m over here!” you know. And bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump. I then realize, “Oh, it’s one of my dogs sitting up there wagging its tail.” So I talked to the dog during the night and told him to bark when somebody came. So that if, I was kind of half out of it, I’d be able to holler. And I hadn’t seen her. She wasn’t there in the morning.
When it got light, I squirmed out of there. I was shaking really hard still. (At) my feet, right at that corner of the house, was this bag. And this is part of the story. It’s full of women’s extra-large and large jammy bottoms I buy at the thrift stores. They’re really good quality polar fleece. I shouldn’t be telling my secrets. I have a bag just for pajama bottoms. And so I put this pair on my head. I just pulled it over my head and then wrapped the legs around my neck and knotted it on. And then I put my arms in another pair and folded on another pair, and then there was some scraps in bag that are laying around that I could just wrap around my feet to protect them. And I took the bag with the rest of the jammy bottoms with me, because I knew once I got past that mudflat I was gonna be all muddy and horrid. And I would want to get some warm, dry clothing on, so I had that with me.
And I just decided to start going. I couldn’t go very fast, but I decided to just keep going. And I was about halfway across the debris field. I found a piece of siding from off the house. And when it was a really soft spot, I’d throw that out there and kind of step across it till I could get to a piece of debris that was more solid, and then grab it and go the next one. I have no idea how long it took, but I was so cold. Because then I’m out in the wind and the rain and everything. And I am so cold. And I get about halfway across that field and I can see where the trees are standing up. And there’s a great big log jam there, so it’s an edge.
And I see hats coming through the trees, baseball caps. People! “Boy, am I glad to see you!” And they heard me. They came and got me. And … it was not easy to get me across the rest of that field. It took about six or seven, and they put me in a sled and dragged me across that field. And they worked so hard to get me over there, because they were dragging that sled and they didn’t have the plywood, and they’re heavier and they’re sinking and stuff. And then they got me to a place where I could walk a little ways to them, put me in this toasty warm truck. That’s how I lived.