It looks like a long march of kids through downtown Orting. From kindergartners to high school seniors, more than 2,000 students walk nearly two miles to escape a lahar.
It’s just a drill, but scientists say tomorrow, or 100 years from now, Mount Rainier will erupt. That could cause lahar, a deadly wave of rock, soil, and debris, to flow into Orting, wiping out everything in its path.
“A very rapid flowing muddy mixture of everything from boulders to sand-size particles to clay,” said George Bergantz, a professor at the University of Washington who studies volcanoes. “People in Orting need to understand that they have a limited timespan to respond when the alarm goes off.”
The group “Bridge 4 Kids,” formed by concerned parents, believes the two mile trek out of town is not the best route to save kids.
Chelsea Goldin, a member of the group, is so worried about lahars and escape routes that she spends many days at her children’s school.
“It’s just because I’m scared to leave my kids at the school and not be there in case something happens,” said Goldin. “I feel like they’re not in the safest situation if a lahar does occur.”
The people who make up “Bridge 4 Kids,” believe the tall ridge directly behind the schools is the closest, safest option to get to higher ground if Mount Rainier erupts.
“It would be closer access for our students to be able to walk away from the flow of a lahar,” said Peggy Ryals, a parent and also a member of Bridge 4 Kids.
The group has been pushing the idea for 15 years. In that time they’ve raised $2 million dollars, met with state leaders and engineers, and developed blue prints and designs for a pedestrian bridge that could hold 12 thousand people and would cross the Carbon River and rise up the hill to safety.
Joe Pestinger, Mayor of Orting, likes the idea but says the price has kept it from becoming a reality. He figures the cost of the bridge would be around $40 million.
“I think we would have a hard time coming up with that kind of money,” said Pestinger, pointing out the community is just 7,000 people. “It’s a great idea. I’m just not so sure it will ultimately work.”
Ryals believes the plan is worth the cost.
“I don’t know why we can’t come up with money for a bridge that will save lives,” said Ryals.
The frustration continued following the School district’s latest lahar drill.
Scientists say people will have 30 to 40 minutes to get to the safe zone. The last kids in the drill took more than 50 minutes.
“We need something that’s better, more accurate for our children,” said Goldin. “For me as a parent knowing my kids are going to be safe at the end of the day.”