A rain-soaked hillside collapsed without warning on Saturday,
unleashing a deluge of mud on dozens of homes in a river valley near
the rural town of Oso, in Snohomish County, some 55 miles northeast
Authorities fear that some of the 90 still missing might never be
found in the square-mile heap of mud-caked debris and muck.
Officials were expected to revise casualty tolls during a press
conference at 9 a.m. local time on Friday.
"In the next 24 to 48 hours, as the medical examiner's office
catches up with the difficult work that they have to do, you're
going to see these numbers increase substantially," fire district
chief Travis Hots said on Thursday.
An estimated 180 people lived in the path of the landslide.
"This is going to get harder and harder," said Dan Rankin, mayor of
nearby Darrington, as he choked back tears at a town hall meeting
attended by hundreds on Thursday evening. "We need each other more
Shawn Scott, 51, a former U.S. soldier living in Darrington, said he
went in as an authorized volunteer on Monday and Tuesday, but by
Wednesday, as it became increasingly clear that no one else would be
found alive, he stayed home.
"The rescue effort's one thing, body recovery's another," he said.
"There's plenty of people for that."
However, Hots said some 200 people continued to comb through the
treacherous disaster site without respite. "I haven't lost hope yet.
There's a lot of people up there who haven't lost hope yet."
SPEED VERSUS SAFETY
All of those discovered alive in the mud were rescued by helicopter
within the first few hours after the landslide, and rescuers have
not found further signs of life, officials said.
Authorities were investigating the cause of the mudslide and the
Washington State Department of Natural Resources said it would
review recent forestry activities in the area to determine if they
might have been a factor. No earthquake had occurred in the region,
according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Many residents voiced anger that local officials refused to allow
volunteers to join the search for survivors immediately after the
slide, when chances for finding any were greatest.
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While some used their intimate knowledge of the area to sneak into
the disaster zone to help, others said they returned home feeling
frustrated and helpless.
Officials warned that conditions were too dangerous to allow
non-professional volunteers into the disaster zone even though they
finally agreed on Tuesday to start allowing volunteers to join the
official rescue teams.
Local politicians told the Seattle Times newspaper that county
authorities had wasted time by failing to quickly recognize the
scope of the disaster and could have sought more experienced help
rather than conducting efforts alone.
The state National Guard's commanding officer offered to deploy a
50-member search team on Saturday, an offer local emergency
management officials did not accept until Monday, a Washington
Military Department spokeswoman said.
While county officials did not initially grasp the magnitude of the
devastation, there was no room for more personnel because of
quicksand-like conditions and fears of further slides, military
department spokeswoman Karina Shagren said.
"There wasn't a resources issue, there was a safety issue."
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Darrington, Steve
Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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