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'I lost everything, but things are just things'

WALL - The Burma Road leads up to the China Wall high above the Toutle River near Mount St. Helens.

"That's what it's called ... China Wall," said Vince Streiff, pointing out the high ridge near the camp fire.

"It's called Burma Road because I understand it's as rough as the Burma Road was in World said Ellen Zerkle, of the dirt and rutted e ridge as she compared it to the aging battlefront.

They and 14 others are all that remain on the ridge today from a larger group who came up Monday night after Mount St.. Helens sent destruction down the Toutle River to most of their homes.

It is safe here from the threatened massive flood said to be building at Spirit Lake on the north side of the mountain.

The forested area is eight miles north of Cattle Rock tucked in away from Interstate 5.

"It all depends on what happens up there, '' said Nancy Althof, pointing toward Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake when asked how long she will stay.

A half-dozen or so vehicles including campers, trailer homes and cars are parked about and a tent is set up.

For most, the vehicles, a few valuables and pets are all that they have left. There were 26 homes along the hill above a short stretch of the Toutle River about four miles north of Castle Rock.

All are gone but one and the dislodged remains of another.

"They are gone, all gone," said Andriana Johnson, sadly with a wave of her hand. Hers was on higher land and she did not lose it.

"In a way you feel ashamed your house is still standing. And yet I feel grateful," Mrs. Johnson said.

Those sitting about the campfire on lawnchairs and logs speak of events last Sunday in matter-of-fact tones.

One cried herself out Monday. she said. Now there are no tears or tones of sadness and they speak of themselves as being fortunate.

"I lost everything but things are things," says Marcia Fischer. "People and animals are much more important."

"Out of all these houses, no one was lost," said Stacy Crane, a Castle Rock student. "That's all that counts. ''

There are touches of irony, humanity, of near disbelief among the recall of events. Standing on high ground some watched their homes float away.

They speak of the Olson family, a young couple with two children who lived among them. They lost everything while sitting in a Portland hospital while one of their children had brain surgery.

Another family of four got out with only their pet dog Sunday night. Since then they have been refused places to rent because they had a pet.

Mrs. Althof said her battered freezer was discovered half buried in mud. Using logs, Streiff and others got to it and found meat still frozen inside.

They've had stews, spaghetti and steaks on China Wall. "We all do our share," Bobbie Jenkins said.

"We all plan to stay in the area," said one looking to the future.

"I don't know," said another. "The fishing is wrecked."

"That used to be a beautiful river but it won't be again in our lifetimes," said Arnold Zerkle, a resident since 1925.