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Oso mudslide death toll 41; crews continue search as President Obama heads to Washington

It's likely the latest victims were found in the east end of the slide, nearest Darrington, where the search is focused right now. (KIRO Radio Photo/Tim Haeck)

Search managers have updated the death toll from the Oso mudslide that hit the Snohomish County community on March 22. Crews found two more bodies over the weekend. The slide has now claimed 41 lives, 39 have been identified, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office and four people are still listed as missing.

It’s likely the latest victims were found in the east end of the slide, nearest Darrington, where the search is focused right now.

“This is the one section that really hasn’t been able to be searched yet because of the water build up that’s occurred,” said Trooper Chris Webb, with the Washington State Patrol, who led a walking tour of the slide zone Friday. “What they’ve done is built up a berm over the last week and they’re taking the water from this side and putting it over to the other side of the berm, basically where the Stillaguamish River is.”

Even as the water drains, backhoe operators are digging into the debris field as spotters carefully check the material lifted out of the muck.

It’s been one month since a hillside gave way and a massive slide wiped out a river’s edge community in Oso. Webb is struck by what’s been accomplished in the month since the disaster.

“If a person would have come into this area and looked at the destruction, I personally would have said I’d be surprised if they find anyone, it was unbelievable,” said Webb.

Most of us have seen the giant American flag attached to a snag in the middle of the slide zone. A few days ago, recovery workers paused at the site of a new memorial, erected at the east end of the slide, a wood carving with the name Oso and the date and time of the slide. The plaque and a wreath are attached to the trunk of a giant fir tree that somehow survived the nearly incomprehensible power of the slide that took more than 40 lives.

“Somebody with a chainsaw came out and found a nice piece of wood and actually engraved that with a chainsaw and it’s a pretty remarkable piece of art, really, and a nice memorial,” Webb remarked. Webb thinks the memorial is important to the crews, working long hours, toiling through the debris field in harsh conditions.

President Barack Obama will see first-hand the devastation of the slide when he tours the area Tuesday afternoon. He’s scheduled to arrive at Paine Field and take a helicopter to the Arlington-Darrington area to talk with recovery workers and relatives of the slide victims.

Obama is making the brief stop before heading to Asia for an eight-day trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

With just four people still on the missing list, which is expected to be reduced to two following the next update from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, it appears the recovery effort is nearing the finish. But, that’s not something anybody is willing to talk about.

“I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a finish line here,” said Webb. “I think maybe everyone has their own finish line on this.”

For now, the focus remains on finding the missing.

All survivors taken to Harborview Medical Center on March 22 have been discharged. The hospital said a 38-year-old male was discharged Saturday in satisfactory condition.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor has announced an emergency grant of over $2.8 million to help with cleanup and recovery efforts. The funds will be used to create temporary jobs to assist with the recovery efforts, with over $955,000 available initially.

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