The Norman Transcript

March 28, 2014

Weary mudslide rescuers battle rain, exhaustion

By Manuel Valdes and Matt Volz
The Associated Press

DARRINGTON, Wash. — Weary rescuers in hip waders pressed through rain and their own exhaustion Thursday, searching for more bodies and perhaps a miracle atop the pile of filth and debris that laid waste to a Washington town and killed at least 25 people.

Rescue and cadaver dogs occasionally led crews to a wrecked car or the ruins of a house containing a body. Teams then began removing the corpse, ignoring the muck that clogged their tools. As the victim was taken away, silence fell over the site.

The main goal now is to find more bodies and winnow the list of the 90 people who are still missing in the mudslide that buried the community of Oso on Saturday.

Authorities kept the official death toll at 16 while acknowledging at least nine additional bodies have been located, but they warned the community a higher toll would be announced Friday morning.

“I fully expect that number to go up here very, very soon,” said Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots.

At this point, narrowing the missing list means only one thing: digging. There are no more phone calls to relatives or door-to-door searches in hopes of locating people who just haven’t checked in yet.

“At this time, we’re not using any other type of methods other than the search and rescue,” said Casey Broom of the Snohomish County emergency operations center.

Authorities have not released the names on the list of missing.

The more than 200 people working on the sludgy heap cling to hope that at least one survivor is waiting for them in some pocket of the pile, which is a square mile wide and 40 feet deep in places.

“My heart is telling me I’m not giving up yet,” Hots said. “If we find just one more person alive, it’s all worth it to me.”

After six days of searching, people perhaps aren’t the only ones showing signs of strain. Shane Barco’s 3-year-old German shepherd has found bodies and body parts. But, Barco said, the dog gets frustrated when they don’t bring anybody out alive.

Days of combing through what Barco called a blender of debris have exhausted the dog, leading Barco to stop the search for a while.

The medical examiner’s office has so far formally identified three victims: Christina Jefferds, 45, of Arlington; Stephen A. Neal, 55, of Darrington; and Linda L. McPherson, 69, of Arlington.

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