"The number is so big and it's so negative. It's hard to grasp,"
said 66-year-old Bob Michajla, a volunteer who has been helping
search part of the square-mile (2.6 square-km) debris field. "These
are all friends and neighbors and family. Everybody knows everybody
in this valley."
The official death toll of identified victims stood at 17 a week
after a rain-soaked hillside collapsed without warning at
mid-morning on March 22, unleashing a towering wall of mud that
flattened dozens of homes in the river valley near the rural town of
Oso, about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.
But the presumed death count is at least 27 based on information
from officials that in addition to the 17 victims identified, 10
more bodies have been found. Officials do not include victims
located in the debris field in the official death toll until the
bodies reach the medical examiner's office, according to Gary
Haakenson, Snohomish County's executive director.
An estimated 180 people lived in the path of the landslide. And
while officials say 90 appear still to be unaccounted for, they also
say some of those killed might never be found.
"This community will be healing for a very long period of time,"
said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert.
Governor Jay Inslee has called for a moment of silence Saturday at
10:37 a.m. local time (1737 GMT), the exact time the mudslide hit
Oso on March 22.
As families and friends wait for news of loved ones, Facebook
postings and other social media sites have been serving as avenues
for people to mourn and share memories of those presumed lost.
A memorial page on Facebook includes pleas for information on many
of those missing, prayers, condolences and offers of assistance. The
plight of the Spillers family of six has garnered much attention.
According to postings on memorial web pages, Billy Spillers, 30, was
at home with his four children when the hillside collapsed onto
their home. Four-year-old Jacob Spillers was pulled alive from the
disaster site, but his 5-year-old sister, Kaylee Spillers, was
founded dead. Billy Spillers and the two other Spillers children are
still unaccounted for. The mother was not at home and survived.
Two more victims being mourned are Linda McPherson, 69, a librarian
who died even as her husband was able to dig himself out of the
rubble, according to the Snohomish County Landslide Victims Memorial
Page on Facebook.
[to top of second column]
A four-month-only girl and her grandmother also were among those who
A volunteer member of the search team, Dayn Brunner, pulled the body
of his own sister, 36-year-old Summer Raffo, from the mud pile on
Wednesday. She was driving through the area when the slide buried
her in her car.
Authorities have in some cases allowed victims' relatives onto the
disaster site as the remains of loved ones are recovered, and a
moment of silence is observed.
Ron Brown, a county official involved in Snohomish County's
search-and-rescue operations, said the debris field may end up being
the final resting place for several victims because some may be
buried so thoroughly they cannot be found.
"That's going to be hallowed ground out there," he said.
John Farmer, 52, who lives a few miles east of the slide site,
attended a community meeting Friday and suggested to the gathering
that the mudslide site should never be rebuilt, but rather turned
into a park or other place of remembrance.
"A place where we can remember our loved ones, our neighbors, our
families, our friends," Farmer said.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Darrington,
Washington; Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Steve Gorman and Dan
Whitcomb in Los Angeles; writing by Carey Gillam; editing by Lisa
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