Number of missing from US mudslide drops

2014-03-30 12:05
(Marcus Yam, The Seattle Times, AP)

(Marcus Yam, The Seattle Times, AP)

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Darrington — The number of those believed missing following a deadly mudslide in Washington state has plummeted to 30 after many people were found safe, authorities said late on Saturday.

Officials previously said they expected the figure — previously estimated at 90 — to fall as they worked to find people safe and cross-referenced a "fluid" list that likely included partial reports and duplicates.

Crews used heavy equipment, dogs and their bare hands to search in heavy rain on Saturday for more victims, week after the slide destroyed the small mountainside community of Oso, north of Seattle.

As the number of people unaccounted for went down, the fatalities went up.

The official death toll of victims identified by the medical examiner on Saturday increased by one, to 18, said Jason Biermann, programme manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

Authorities have recovered more than two dozen bodies — including one on Saturday — but they aren't added to the official tally until a formal identification is made.

Underscoring the difficulty of identifying those killed in one of the deadliest landslides in US history, Biermann said crews are not always discovering complete remains.

"Rescuers are not always making full recoveries," he said. "Often, they are making partial recoveries."

The search was going "all the way to the dirt" as crews looked for anything to provide answers for family, said Snohomish County Fire District 1 battalion chief Steve Mason. Crews are also collecting bags of personal belongings that would later be cleaned, sorted and hopefully returned to families.

All work on the debris field halted briefly Saturday for a moment of silence to honour those lost when the slide struck 22 March.

- AP
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