Hope of finding survivors in Washington mudslide fades away
ARLINGTON, Wash. — A mountainside community waited in anguish on Friday to learn the full scope of the Washington state mudslide as authorities worked to identify remains and warned that they were unlikely to find anyone alive nearly a week after the disaster.
Leslie Zylstra said everybody in town knows someone who died, and the village was coming to grips with the fact that many of the missing will never turn up.
“The people know there's no way anybody could have survived,” said Zylstra, who used to work in an Arlington hardware store. “They just want to have their loved ones, to bury their loved ones.”
Authorities delayed an announcement that they said would substantially raise the death toll to allow the Snohomish County medical examiner's office to continue with identification efforts.
That job, along with the work of the exhausted searchers, was complicated by the sheer magnitude of the devastation from the slide on March 22. Tons of earth and ambulance-sized boulders of clay smashed everything in their path, leaving unrecognizable remnants in their wake.
“There's a process that we have in place, and I don't want to get into too many details of that,” Snohomish County District 21 fire Chief Travis Hots said. “It's not as simple as saying this is the number of people that we have that we have recovered.”
The fire chief said he expected to receive an update from the medical examiner's office by Friday evening.
In addition to bearing the stress of the disaster, townspeople were increasingly frustrated by the lack of information from authorities, said Mary Schoenfeldt, a disaster traumatologist who has been providing counseling services at schools and for public employees and volunteers.
“The anger and frustration is starting to rise,” she said.
That's normal for this phase of a disaster, as is the physical toll taken by not having eaten or slept normally in days, she said.
There were also signs of resilience. Handmade signs have appeared that read “Oso strong” and “530 pride” in reference to the stricken community and state Highway 530 that runs through it.
Authorities have acknowledged the deaths of at least 25 people — with 17 bodies recovered. Reports of more bodies being found have trickled in from relatives and workers on the scene.
Searchers are working from a list of 90 missing people, which equates to about half of the population of Oso, a North Cascades foothills community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.
That list has not been made public, but officials have said it includes not just residents who may have been in their homes but others thought to be in the area or traveling on the highway when the slide struck.
Authorities have all but eliminated the possibility that some people on the list may have been out of the area and simply have not checked in.
And they warned that the chance of finding anyone alive amid the tons of silt and mud was slim.
“I would say there's always some hope, but ...” Tom Miner said on Thursday, trailing off before finishing his thought. He is an urban search-and-rescue leader for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Besides the 90 missing, authorities are checking on 35 people who may or may not have been in the area at the time of the slide.
The mudslide could go down as one of Washington's worst disasters, along with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens that killed 57 people and a 1910 avalanche near Stevens Pass that swept away two trains and killed 96.
Rescuers, military personnel, volunteers and search dogs pressed on in Washington state, driven by the hope of finding at least one survivor. But the operation had changed, said Snohomish County fire battalion Commander Steve Mason.
“It started with hasty searching,” he said. Now “we want to be more methodical.”
Crews that had worked for days in the rain and mud were getting some relief as replacements arrived. The Colorado National Guard sent 16 members of its fatality search-and-recovery team to Washington.
A new crew of volunteer diggers showed up on Friday and marched single file toward the debris pile.
“There are people down here digging for their loved ones,” Mason said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Graham rejects GOP Benghazi report as ‘garbage’
- Obama defends executive action on illegals
- Even before Ebola contained, U.S. looks to next health crisis
- Spying software reportedly snooped on companies, governments, individuals since 2008
- Tension, anxiety mount in Ferguson as grand jury ruling awaited
- Tufts center study: It costs $2.6B to get drug to market
- Admiral denies role in counterfeiting casino chips
- 32 horses killed in stable fire near Chicago
- E-cigarettes cut cravings, study finds
- Locavore movement takes to deer hunting across country
- ‘This is my jail,’ gang chief inside Baltimore detention center declared