US mudslide missing drops to 22

2014-04-01 11:29
Search and rescue workers operate a hovercraft at the Oso mudslide site in Oso, Washington. (File, AFP)

Search and rescue workers operate a hovercraft at the Oso mudslide site in Oso, Washington. (File, AFP)

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Washington - Authorities in Washington state said that they believe 22 people are still missing in the deadly mudslide that has killed at least 24 people.

That is down from the 30 people they previously considered missing.

The Snohomish County medical examiner's office said it has positively identified 18 of the 24 victims in the official death toll.

Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson says the remains of three additional victims were found on Monday, but they have not yet been included in the medical examiner's official numbers.

The slide struck a rural area northeast of Seattle on 22 March .

Steve Harris, a division supervisor for the search effort, said search teams are learning more about the force of the slide, and that is helping them better locate victims in a debris field that is 21m deep in places.

"There's a tremendous amount of force and energy behind this," Harris said of the slide. 

Hazardous conditions

Harris said search dogs are the primary tool for finding remains in the small, mountainside community about 88km northeast of Seattle.

He said searchers are finding human remains four to six times per day. Sometimes crews only find partial remains, which makes the identification process harder.

A makeshift road completed over the weekend links one side of the 122Ha debris field to the other.

Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including household chemicals, septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers. When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed off by hazardous materials crews.

Govenor Jay Inslee on Monday asked US President Barack Obama for a major disaster declaration in Snohomish County to make programmes available to help individuals, households and businesses.

Last week, a federal emergency declaration was approved that provided a federal disaster team and specialised personnel to the slide area.

Estimated financial losses have reached $10m, Inslee said, adding that about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7m in structures and more than $3m in their contents, Inslee's letter said.

Members of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Sounders soccer team were scheduled to visit with community members Monday evening.

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