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Originally published March 27, 2014 at 8:03 PM | Page modified March 28, 2014 at 6:04 AM

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15 minutes: the difference between life and death?

Like others who commute between Darrington and Arlington, teacher Dawn Hogan now faces a long drive. But she’s not complaining.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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ARLINGTON — The now two-hour drive home from Arlington to Darrington gives middle-school teacher Dawn Hogan plenty of time to think about how close she came to being buried in her car by the mudslide on Highway 530.

Hogan, who teaches sixth-grade science and seventh- and eighth-grade math at Haller Middle School in Arlington, had been in a 5K run in Arlington Saturday morning.

She stayed about 15 minutes later than she normally would have so she could wait for a fellow teacher, who had decided a few days earlier to run the race with her.

Without that 15-minute delay, she figures she would have been caught in the mudslide on the way back to her home on Swede Heaven Road, about six miles west of Darrington.

On Monday, she and her race partner were both shaken up by how a few chance decisions may have spared Hogan’s life.

“We both broke down crying,” she said.

She is one of doubtless many who have realized how decisions they gave no thought to at the time may have saved their lives.

Hogan said she’s had a hard time figuring out what she should feel.

“We’re all OK; our home is OK. It’s a long commute, but I feel bad being upset,” Hogan said. “It’s just knowing how close it could have been to being at that point. So now you question every decision that you make. Should I turn this way? Should I go down that road? Should they go with me? Should they stay home? That’s the hard part for us.”

Hogan and her 13-year-old son, Austin, drove the two-hour detour back to Arlington on Sunday and spent the night with a fellow teacher so he could attend baseball practice and she could be back in class on Monday morning.

She said the students at the middle school were worried about her and Austin.

“On Monday, one of the big reasons I really had to be here was they knew where I lived and they had no way of knowing whether or not I was OK,” Hogan said. “They would just pop their head in the door and make sure I was here.”

She stayed Monday night and Tuesday night in Arlington while her fiancé, Jeff Voter, stayed at home with their 3-year-old son, Morgan.

Wednesday night, she made the two-hour drive home after work while Austin stayed in Arlington with his baseball coach so he could attend practice. Thursday morning, she got up at 5 a.m. and the whole family made the two-hour drive so she could start class by 7:30 a.m. The drive usually takes about 35 minutes on Highway 530.

She and Voter said it was important for them to keep things as normal as possible for Austin.

“He’s right on the edge of crying all day long,” Voter said. “We had a little talk and he said, ‘I kind of want to move. I’m scared to live there now.’ I’m trying to convince him that we’re OK.”

It was a tough week for the family to be separated.

Next week is spring break, so they’ll have some respite. But like others who live in rural Darrington and rely on Highway 530 for work or for shopping trips into Arlington, they hope the way is cleared soon.

“If this was a six-month thing where we had to continually do this without any other relief, detour-wise, there would be no normal,” Voter said.

The fuel costs and a four-hour round-trip commute would chew up their savings and their sanity, he said.

Authorities have said that transportation to Darrington is a top priority, but clearing the huge mudslide will take time. A task force has been created to figure out how to “most effectively and respectfully” open the highway, said John Pennington, Snohomish County’s head of emergency management.

Travel out of Darrington now involves taking Highway 530 north to Highway 20 at Rockport, Skagit County, and then west to Interstate 5, a distance of approximately 56 miles. The state Department of Transportation says that’s the preferred route.

It’s another 30 miles or so to Arlington.

The Mountain Loop Highway, a southbound route out of Darrington, has been opened, but “highway” is a misnomer. You have to drive slowly and carefully, and in parts, it’s a single-lane gravel road.

Community Transit, the local bus service, will start a new bus route — 231 — on Friday to connect Darrington residents with grocery and medical services in Skagit County, as well as their jobs in Arlington and Everett.

Community Transit is also offering vans for van pools, and has said that so far this week three new van pools have been formed between Darrington and Arlington.

It’s not the same as a car, though.

“Little things that you throw into a week, a dentist appointment, or this or that, is all going to be a big thing now,” Voter said.

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