Number of Confirmed Dead in WA Mudslide Expected to Jump

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The number of confirmed dead in the Washington state mudslide is expected to jump considerably Friday after at least eight more bodies were believed to have been found, according to reports.  Keep updated at MyNorthwest.com

NASAImagesOSOEmergency officials will hold a news conference at 9 a.m. (noon ET) (Listen to it LIVE on KIRO Radio) to discuss the latest in the search effort, which was hampered Thursday by rain. By day’s end, officials said, the death toll had risen slightly to 17 following Saturday’s hillside collapse in Oso.

Snohomish Fire District 21 chief Travis Hots acknowledged a number of others have been killed in the slide, but said at briefing late Thursday officials want to make sure they are handling the reporting of additional deaths properly.

“There is a very robust, good system that they have in place, partnered with the National Guard, to process the fatalities that are coming in, and that number is likely to change very, very much tomorrow (Friday) morning,” he said.

If you know of someone missing, please call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line (425) 388-3845.

The conditions

Search teams are describing horrific conditions as they wade through the widespread debris field at the Oso mudslide.

“If you could imagine houses, trees, and a bunch of mud put into a blender, run for a bit, and then dumped back on the ground,” said National Guard Master Sgt. Chris Martin. “It’s absolutely devastating.”

He and Senior Airman Charlotte Gibson are part of the Search and Rescue Extraction Team.

“It’s almost impossible. You’ll fall in waist deep or knee deep in some areas… we just keep pushing on as slowly and meticulously as we can so we don’t miss anything,” said Gibson.

The pair explained when they discover human remains, they’ll use GPS to mark the location and then call the command center, which will send a dog or other support.

“You start with how many people are there, how many people aren’t there and that’s your base number,” explained Tom Miner with FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Team. “And then there’s the unknown of how many people were in there that we don’t know anything about. Will you ever get an accurate number? It took us weeks to get an accurate number in Oklahoma City and I’m not sure we ever got an accurate number in the World Trade Center.”

Tiring out

Hots said they have about 200 people out on the debris field, from volunteers to firefighters to the National Guard. He said they are starting a plan for rotating in a new team of fresh searchers.

“I have gotten messages from folks all over the country who want to be a part of this. The folks out there doing this are going to get tired,” said Hots. “They can’t keep doing this forever. As they get tired and need a break, we’re going to start cycling in crews who are fresh.”

Hots said the rain is definitely a factor in the search.

“The areas that are already very saturated with water and muddy, that’s just going to further complicate things. It’s going to be a very difficult day.”

And it’s not just the water, but the situation also gets difficult when the mud starts to dry out.

Hots thanked all the volunteers Thursday.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of people, unpaid citizens who’ve got special skill sets and live in the community…who have family members that are buried up there and who want to be a part of this,” said Hots. “They have been instrumental and they’re certainly unsung heroes.”

That said, Hots reiterated that they don’t need anymore volunteers showing up at the Darrington fire department at this point.

Community Support

Officials announced the creation of a special family assistance center at undisclosed locations in both Arlington and Darrington for those who’ve lost someone in the mudslide. There’s also a 24-hour crisis line at 800-584-3578 for anyone touched by the tragedy to get professional help in dealing with the massive tragedy.

“This is not just for victims. It’s not just for the relatives. This is something that is established for us as a community,” Pennington said. “We are all parents or brothers or sisters or husbands and when we hear about the loss of life it eventually catches up to us and it’s very important that we all begin that process of addressing that. Don’t suppress it.”

Community Transit will open emergency bus service to and from Darrington on Friday – route 231. Check the website for more details.

The Department of Licensing will be in Darrington all day Thursday to help those who’ve lost their ID in the mudslide.

Hots thanked everyone from kids in the community to big corporations like Costco and Home Depot that have stepped up to make contributions.

“Everybody wants to help and that’s just an awesome thing. It makes me very, very proud to say that I’ve lived in this community my whole life and to be a part of it,” he said.

Difficult Conditions

Up to 1 inch of rain is forecast Friday in the area, on the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

The National Weather Service said the rain will complicate the search and recovery effort and add moisture to the already unstable slope.

Forecasters said rainfall in the valley also is likely to increase the flow in the river. A flood warning remains in effect for pooling in the area immediately upstream of where the landslide blocked the river.

The river has cut a channel through the blockage, but a flash flood watch is in effect for the area downstream, in case it suddenly gives way.

How to Help

You can drop off donations at:

Senior Aerospace AMT
20100 71st AVE N.E.
Arlington, WA. 98223

Listener Paul Cutsinger in Redmond has created an Amazon Wish List so people can easily find and purchase items on Russell’s list without searching, and then have them shipped directly to his office.

You can also call Ed Russell directly at 425-308-2549 to discuss how to help. Plans have been made to collect your donations this weekend. The lobby closes at 4:30. So you need to call Ed after that time to have him come unlock the door.

“These guys are using their own stuff. We’re just trying to supply them so they can keep going. That’s why people live here. It’s because everybody helps everybody out when they need to.”

Russell says there’s no way to fathom just how grave the situation is at the slide site. And the need will continue for a long time to come.

“It is a lot worse than the news media has been portraying. Some of the stuff you can’t hardly talk about. It’s a horrific scene up there.”

Russell believes many of the guys working non-stop since Saturday are in shock.

“They’re digging out things that they shouldn’t be seeing … They’re going to need somebody to talk to after this. You can tell.”

Keep updated at MyNorthwest.com

References and Related Reading as per the Earth Observatory at NASA

National Weather Service (2014, March 25) Flash Flood Watch. Accessed March 25, 2014.

Reading the Washington Landscape (2014, March 25) Stilliguamish/Oso Landslide. Accessed March 26, 2014.

Sliding Thought Blog (2009, June 5) Landslide of the Week: Hazel Landslide. Accessed March 26, 2014.

The Atlantic (2009, June 5) At least 14 Dead in Washington State Mudslide. Accessed March 26, 2014.

The Landslide Blog (2014, March 24) Oso landslip:useful resources and the rising human cost. Accessed March 26, 2014.

Scientific American (2014, March 26) Oso Mudslide: Links to the Geology Behind the Tragedy. Accessed March 26, 2014.

Seattle Times (2014, March 24) Risk of slide ‘unforeseen’? Warnings go back decades. Accessed March 26, 2014.

USA Today (2014, March 25) Wash. Landslide could be 2nd-deadliest in U.S. History. Accessed March 26, 2014.

Voice of America (2014, March 25) US Mudslide Death Toll at 24, Scores Missing. Accessed March 26, 2014.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee (2014, March 25) Photos: Snohomish County Mudslide. Accessed March 26, 2014.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Caption by Adam Voiland.

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