EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

National News

March 29, 2014

Another mudslide victim found, but official death toll stays at 17 for now

ARLINGTON, Wash.—Rescue workers found one more victim in the debris field of the massive mudslide in Oso, but officials said yesterday that the number of confirmed dead would stay at 17 for now.

Gary Haakenson, Snohomish County’s executive director, said he understood that many want a more firm count of the dead and missing.

“I have shared the frustration of the victim count being a moving target,” he said at a news conference here.

Officials have said 17 people were confirmed dead, 90 were unaccounted for and an additional 35 may have been in the area last Saturday when a chunk of the mountain came down.

“The process has been very, very challenging,” said Haakenson, who stopped at the county medical examiner’s office and verified the latest death toll on Thursday.

“Think about how long it takes to identify one body. Now think about two or three or four,” he said.

He said crews were still finding bodies in the field.

Asked whether the list of 90 missing should be considered presumed dead, Haakenson said, “We always want to hold out hope, but I think at some point we have to expect the worst.”

The mudslide in rural Oso, about an hour north of Seattle, destroyed 49 homes and wiped out a portion of the highway that cuts through the town of about 200 people.

Searchers and forensic teams, along with relatives of the missing and other volunteers, are spending the seventh straight day meticulously combing through a square-mile debris field, but hopes have dimmed that any survivors will be found.

There were dramatic rescues immediately after the slide, and bodies recovered since, most recently the body of a baby on Thursday. But in recent days, searchers have not found a survivor among the square-mile debris field of gray muck and piles of downed trees.

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