Three more bodies were found Monday; death toll likely to rise again
List of missing includes 16 people who were on the same road
Official says about four to six times per day, searchers come upon possible bodies
Youngest victim was just 4 months old, oldest was 71
The grim death toll from the massive landslide in rural Washington rose Monday to 24 people, and the discovery of three more bodies means the list of those confirmed killed likely will rise soon, authorities said.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office released the names of 18 of the victims and said it is working to identify the other six people.
Four-month-old Sanoah Huestis was the youngest of the 18 victims who were identified. The oldest was 71.
The three bodies found Monday were discovered in the 640-acre debris field left after a massive landslide nine days ago, Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson said. They will not be added to the number of confirmed dead until they are identified and their families notified.
Twenty-two people are now listed as missing, down from 30 earlier in the day, Haakenson said. At least 16 of the people on the unaccounted for list went missing on the same road.
Also Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee requested that President Barack Obama issue a major disaster declaration for the area. The governor asked for help with housing, funeral expenses and other disaster-related personal expenses, and unemployment insurance for those who lose their jobs as a result of the mudslide.
“Words cannot describe the devastation done to the community of Oso and the impact the landslide continues to have in Darrington, Arlington and neighboring communities,” Inslee said in a news release announcing the request.
On March 22, a rain-saturated hillside along the north fork of the Stillaguamish River gave way, sending a square-mile rush of wet earth and rock into the outskirts of the town of Oso in Washington’s North Cascade Mountains.
Each day hundreds of searchers and dogs go through the muck looking for bodies, though some cling to hope someone might be found alive.
Steve Harris, the supervisor for the search team on the eastern side of the slide, said that about four to six times per day, someone gets a “hit” on what may be a body or body part in the debris. He said identification is difficult and takes time.
The slide was so powerful it crushed a lot of what was in its path. Cars were compacted to the size of a refrigerator, he said.
He said the debris is 70 feet thick in some places, with an average of 30 feet over the disaster zone. Searchers are also looking at areas on the periphery to make sure nothing is overlooked, he said.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Harris said.
Monday’s weather was kind to the search teams and allowed some areas to drain the water from recent rains. Workers are also using pumps 24 hours a day to remove water that has made the search difficult.