More bodies found in Oso mudslide, death toll expected to keep climbing
- Death toll remains unchanged but officials admit number of bodies found Wednesday.
- Number of missing now officially 90, with 35 more unaccounted for.
Rescuers described a day of grisly discoveries as hundreds of searchers worked Wednesday through the widespread debris field of the Oso mudslide, while the official number of those reported missing dropped to 90.
“There are finds going on continually. They are finding people now,” said Steve Mason, a fire battalion chief from South Snohomish County, who is leading the operation on the west side of the slide.
Officials at a briefing Wednesday evening refused to raise the official death toll from 16, saying while they have recovered additional bodies they are not considered official until certified by the medical examiner, said Capt. Steve Westlake, operations section chief.
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Westlake said crews were in the process of recovering at least eight bodies discovered Tuesday and more were expected.
“People are under logs, mixed in. It’s a slow process,” Mason said.
The official number of people missing in the slide dropped to 90 Wednesday, as a team of Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies were able to identify 140 people who were considered missing but were also registered on a safe list, Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said.
“At least we’re getting a clearer picture of the number of individuals that are out there that we need to focus on at this point,” he said. While he hopes that all will be found, he acknowledged that might not happen.
“Would I like to see it drop to zero? Yes. Do I think it will? No,” he said.
Search coordinators give credit to the community and volunteers for coming together for making progress.
“Before this tragedy, people outside of our state probably couldn’t find Snohomish County on a map,” said Snohomish County Executive John Lovick. “Today, the world knows where Oso is. And they also know we are more than a small community, we are a large family.”
Pennington thanked all the volunteers Wednesday who have turned out.
“We’re humbled beyond belief in this county. It is humbling and we’re respectfully very grateful,” he said with an outpouring of emotion.
Officials announced the creation of a special family assistance center at an undisclosed location in both Arlington and Darrington for those who’ve lost someone in the mudslide.
“This family assistance center is about unifying and bringing together the information for those that are in that grieving process and helping them directly and with extraordinary privacy,” Pennington said.
Pennington also announced the establishment of a 24-hour crisis line at 800-584-3578 for anyone touched by the tragedy to get professional help in dealing with the massive tragedy.
“This is not just for victims. It’s not just for the relatives. This is something that is established for us as a community,” he said. “We are all parents or brothers or sisters or husbands and when we hear about the loss of life it eventually catches up to us and it’s very important that we all begin that process of addressing that. Don’t suppress it.”
Pennington said Community Transit will announce emergency bus service to and from Darrington, which is a temporary solution until there’s a long term plan in place.
The National Weather Service says rain and showers forecast through Saturday will continue to make the search and recovery effort at the Oso mudslide messy and also increase soil instability in the area.
Forecasters say 1 to 3 inches of rain could fall by the weekend, adding moisture to hillsides, including the one that gave way Saturday.
Geologists said the Stillaguamish River continues to carve out a new channel and is slowly relieving pressure from the blockage upstream.
“There’s probably 120 million cubic feet of water stored behind that impoundment, but it is being released. Between Monday and Tuesday it dropped about a half foot based on field measurements,” said Steve Thompson Snohomish County Public Works Director.
He said they are also paying close attention to the mudslide on a daily basis, but so far no movements have been observed.
“It’s stable as of today and probably for the next few days,” said Thompson.
Injured in the slide
The 1-square-mile slide also critically injured several people — including an infant.
A 5-month-old boy, Duke Saddarth, remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit Wednesday afternoon at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. An 81-year-old man and 37-year-old man are in serious condition in intensive care. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said a 58-year-old man and 25-year-old Amanda Skorjanc, the infant’s mother, remain in satisfactory condition.
Skorjanc has also had a chance to visit her young son, Duke, in the intensive care unit. Gregg said it was a short visit because Skorjanc herself still has several surgeries and a long recovery ahead of her.
Harborview is accepting cards and letters of support for patients and their families.
“I know there’s a whole community out there that’s worried about everyone,” said Gregg. “Sending a note of support is huge to these families.”
Cards or notes can be mailed to “Oso Landslide Patient,” Harborview Medical Center, 325 9th Avenue, Seattle WA, 98104 E-mail through our “Email a Patient” website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.