Oso mudslide death toll 30; families, crews bond amid search
- The medical examiner has raised the mudslide death toll to 30 – and that number has not changed since Thursday morning.
- Medical examiner’s office has identified 27 of those victims – also unchanged since Thursday morning.
- Washington lawmakers are asking the IRS to allow an extension for mudslide victims to file their taxes.
Larry Nicky says he promised the families of those who are missing and those who are dead, that he would be there for them. Every night he meets with those families face to face.
“I’ve been quite busy with the families, they want to hear from me personally, and that’s the priority. I made the promise that I would be there for them,” he says.
In the search for victims of the mudslide, that struck the small community of Oso on the Saturday morning of March 22, the death toll has reached 30. Twenty-seven of those victims have been identified and those numbers did not change Thursday afternoon.
“We’re trying to be as honest as we can with the families. And by that, I mean we’re talking to them each night about what we’re finding,” says Nicky.
Nicky is the man in charge of day-to-day operations at the mudslide. On Wednesday, he spoke about his job as the head of Type 2 Incident Management Team, for the first time.
He’s only been on the ground for a week, but has already formed a strong bond with family members, who rely on him for information. Nicky says keeping families informed about their loved ones is as important as what’s happening on the ground.
“We have prepared the victims’ families that we may not find everybody. They understand that we will continue to do our best to help them be reunited. We want to make sure these families are informed, and informed honestly,” Nicky says. “And I will be the person delivering that message.”
There is a growing bond between these families and those searching for their loved ones.
Lt. Richard Burke with the Bellevue Fire Department is helping handle operations on the west side of the slide.
“I think the biggest goal is to provide closure for these families,” Burke says. “Other than blood, sweat and tears, it’s really all we can give them. They lost everything. We’re 12 days out from this and we realize there is a ton of effort being poured into this. They’re coming to the realization, they trust us, to turn it over to us, that we’re going to do a good job for them.”
Families have not only been helping to search for their loved ones but have also been coming out to the scene of the slide to see the devastation for themselves.
And in some cases, families are there to witness the recovery of their loved ones.
Lt. Rob Fisher with the Snohomoish County task force has dealt with those families out in the field.
“The family comes out and we’re working in the area where they believe their family may be, they’re with us, and when we do find something, they’re right next to us while they’re doing that, and we give the family the moment,” says Fisher. “Sometimes we have to take a time out, and take a step back. This is what we do, as firefighters and rescuers.”
Help for the responders and the community will soon be coming in the form of federal aid as well.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday a major disaster declaration would provide help for debris removal and emergency measures. He said about 30 families need help with housing and other needs.
Crews spent Thursday building channels to funnel some of that water away from significant search areas.
Forecasters said the dry weather at the beginning of the week allowed the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River to gradually fall, but rain could cause it to rise again in the slide area.
Emergency responders have also said they’re concerned about melting mountain snow causing the river to rise in warming spring weather.
But the weather won’t hamper the search, or the bond between these crews and families, who are still hoping to find at least 17 more missing people.
On the ground, searchers say they have not only formed close bonds with family members, but also with each other. It’s why rescue workers from all over the state and the country say, when the job is done in Oso, it’s going to be very difficult to leave.
KIRO Radio’s Brandi Kruse, the MyNorthwest.com staff, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.