- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

LA CONCHITA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmie Wallet moved to this oceanside town with his wife and four daughters in search of an easier life. Yesterday, he identified the bodies of all but one child — pulled from the tangle of homes smashed by tons of liquid earth that rumbled down from the bluff above.

No one lost more than Mr. Wallet in the mudslide, which has killed at least 10 persons. And, driven by the frantic hope of finding his family, no one fought more to claw through the debris and help pull out survivors.

Eventually, he had to stop digging and waited, trying to be optimistic as he fought sleep deprivation, took drags from a cigarette and met with friends who stopped by to embrace him. Early yesterday morning, after 36 hours, his wait ended.

His wife, Mechelle, was the first to be found. A group of firefighters and several of Mr. Wallet’s friends carried her to the makeshift morgue at the town’s gas station. Mr. Wallet went inside and identified her, then returned to the porch of a peach stucco house where he had been staying, put up his feet and sat without a word.

Two hours later, his youngest daughter, 2-year-old Paloma, was removed on a stretcher. Her older sister Raven, 6, was next, soon followed by 10-year-old Hannah. The three girls were found next to each other, apparently sitting on a couch when the slide broke apart their house, pushed it for about 100 yards and covered it with about six feet of muck.

“They never had a chance to get out,” said Scott Hall, a battalion chief with Ventura County Fire Department. “It appeared they were … unaware of the slide.”

Mr. Wallet’s fourth daughter, a 16-year-old, had been in nearby Ventura when the mudslide hit.

Residents of La Conchita described Mr. Wallet as an attentive father who sang with his children, took them to the Pacific Ocean beach and sometimes walked about town with Hannah on his shoulders.

“They were incredibly beautiful children. They had these sparkling, intelligent, deeply soulful eyes. Just incredibly loving,” said Vera Long, who lived three houses down from the Wallets. “The only comfort I can derive is that they were all together.”

Mr. Wallet had been returning from a walk to get some ice cream on Monday when days of soaking rain triggered the mudslide. He watched the torrent curve toward his block and ran home, only to find it smothered.

Instinct took over, and he began to dig, helping rescue two persons. Ventura County fire officials credited him with helping map out likely locations of destroyed homes.

“The most frustrating part was that he couldn’t do more,” said Ventura County Fire Capt. Conrad Quintana.

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