2nd UPDATE — Weary mudslide rescuers battle rain, exhaustion; authorities say death toll expected to climb
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The Associated Press
A cross at the Oso Community Chapel is decorated with flowers in dedication to mudslide victims.
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The Associated Press
Searchers work on a massive pile of debris on Thursday.
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The Associated Press
A searcher walks through the area hit by the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (To enlarge, click on photo)
Searchers on Thursday work at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Seattle Times/Marcus Yam via The Associated Press
Darrington volunteer firefighters (from left) Jeff McClelland, Jan McClelland and Eric Finzimer embrace Wednesday after saying a prayer. The town's volunteer firefighters have been on searches in the mudslide zone since Saturday.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
A searcher tries to keep balance while walking through debris at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Searchers watch as a piece of heavy equipment slowly moves debris at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (Click on photo to enlarge)
Workers carrying hand tools walk into a debris area at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
A flag, put up by volunteers helping search the area, stands in the ruins of a home.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
"We haven't lost hope that there's a possibility that we can find somebody alive in some pocket area," said Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots.
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The Associated Press
Rescue workers remove one of a number of bodies from the wreckage of homes destroyed by a mudslide near Oso.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Thick, oozing mud is cleared from States Highway 530 by workers using heavy equipment.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
A search and rescue worker clears debris from a house on the western edge of the massive mudslide.
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The Associated Press
A volunteer arrives at the Oso Fire Department.
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The Associated Press
The massive mudslide that killed at least eight people and left dozens missing is shown in this aerial photo, taken Monday near Oso.
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The Seattle Times via The Associated Press (Click on photo to enlarge)
An aerial photo of the mudslide near the Snohomish County town of Oso.
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The Associated Press/The Herald, Genna Martin
Brian Anderson, left, and Coby Young on Sunday search through the wreckage of a home belonging to the Kuntz family. The entire Kuntz family was at a baseball game Saturday morning when the mudslide swept through the area. The family returned Sunday to search through what remained.
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The Associated Press/The Herald, Genna Martin
A woman holds family photos pulled from the rubble at the site of the mudslide.
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The Associated Press/The Seattle Times, Lindsey Wasson
The orange X on a house destroyed in the mudslide indicates it has been searched by searchers.
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(Everett) Daily Herald via The Associated Press (Click on photo to enlarge)
An aerial photo of Saturday's mudslide damage in rural Snohomish County near Oso.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
The huge mudslide in rural Snohomish County near Oso on Saturday.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
The huge mudslide in rural Snohomish County near Oso on Saturday.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
The huge mudslide in rural Snohomish County near Oso on Saturday.
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The Seattle Times via The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Robin Youngblood survived the landslide that destroyed her house next to the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. She is holding the only item that survived the disaster, a painting of a Cherokee warrior that was knocked from the wall and muddied. "It saved us." she said.
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The Associated Press
A sign is placed to direct those in need to a Red Cross shelter at Post Middle School in Arlington.
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(Everett) Daily Herald via Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Neighbors gather at the Oso Fire Department to look for updates about the mudslide.
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(Everett) Daily Herald via Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Neighbors gather at the Oso Fire Department to look for updates about the mudslide.
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(Everett) Daily Herald via Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
A woman collapses as neighbors gather at the Oso Fire Department to look for updates about the mudslide.
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The Associated Press
A demolished house sits in the mud on State Highway 530 on Sunday, the day after the giant landslide occurred.
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The Associated Press/The Herald, Genna Martin
Steve Skaglund walks across the rubble on the east side of Saturday's fatal mudslide.
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The New York Times (Click on graphic to enlarge)
This graphic uses a 2012 aerial photo to outline Saturday's mudslide and the houses it ruined. State Highway 530 and the Stillaguamish River also are shown. This graphic also can be accessed at www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/03/23/us/washington-mudslide.html

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, BRIAN SKOLOFF, LISA BAUMANN, DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP, MAUEL VALDES, MATT VOLZ and PHUONG LE
The Associated Press

UPDATED — Baby injured in mudslide remains in critical condition
SEATTLE — Five people injured by the landslide that hit the town of Oso on Saturday remain in a Seattle hospital.

Harborview Medical Center reports Thursday they are getting better.

The hospital says a 5-month old boy remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit but is improving. His 25-year-old mother is in satisfactory condition.

An 81-year-old man is in serious condition in intensive care and improving.

A 37-year-old man and 58-year-old man are both listed in satisfactory condition.
DARRINGTON — Weary rescuers in hip waders pressed through rain and their own exhaustion Thursday, searching for more bodies and perhaps a miracle atop the pile of filth and debris that laid waste to a small community and killed at least 25 people.

Rescue and cadaver dogs occasionally led crews to a wrecked car or the ruins of a house containing a body.

Teams then began removing the corpse, ignoring the muck that clogged their tools. As the victim was taken away, silence fell over the site.

The main goal now is to find more bodies and winnow the list of the 90 people who are still missing in the mudslide that buried the community of Oso on Saturday.

Authorities kept the official death toll at 16 while acknowledging at least nine additional bodies have been located, but they warned the community a higher toll would be announced Friday morning.

“I fully expect that number to go up here very, very soon,” said Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots.

At this point, narrowing the missing list means only one thing: digging. There are no more phone calls to relatives or door-to-door searches in hopes of locating people who just haven’t checked in yet.

“At this time, we’re not using any other type of methods other than the search and rescue,” said Casey Broom of the Snohomish County emergency operations center.

Authorities have not released the names on the list of missing.

The more than 200 people working on the sludgy heap cling to hope that at least one survivor is waiting for them in some pocket of the pile, which is a square mile wide and 40 feet deep in places.

“My heart is telling me I’m not giving up yet,” Hots said. “If we find just one more person alive, it’s all worth it to me.”

After six days of searching, people perhaps aren’t the only ones showing signs of strain. Shane Barco’s 3-year-old German shepherd has found bodies and body parts. But, Barco said, the dog gets frustrated when they don’t bring anybody out alive.

Days of combing through what Barco called a blender of debris have exhausted the dog, leading Barco to stop the search for a while.

Three victims IDed

The medical examiner’s office has so far formally identified three victims: Christina Jefferds, 45, of Arlington; Stephen A. Neal, 55, of Darrington; and Linda L. McPherson, 69, of Arlington.

Family members have confirmed a handful of other fatalities to news organizations.

The body of Jefferds’ granddaughter, 4-month-old Sanoah Huestis, was found Thursday, said Dale Petersen, the girl’s great-uncle.

Petersen said he arrived on the scene to help look for survivors to find that work had stopped. A firefighter informed him and others that the infant had been found, Petersen said.

He said the news provides closure for the family.

“We spent a lot of time together,” he said of the baby girl.

Five people injured by the mudslide remain in a Seattle hospital, including a 5-month-old boy in critical condition.

Besides the 90 missing, authorities are checking into 35 other people who may or may not have been in the area at the time of the slide.

If dozens more bodies are found or left entombed in the debris, the Oso mudslide could become one of Washington state’s largest disasters. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people, and a 1910 avalanche near Stevens Pass that struck two trains killed 96.

“We do know this could end up being the largest mass loss of Washingtonians,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday. “We’re looking for miracles to occur.”

The searchers walk on plywood pathways to keep from sinking into the sucking slurry. Their task was made more difficult Thursday by rain that saturated the sand, silt and clay that make up the debris pile.

“You’ll fall in waist-deep in some areas, knee-deep in some areas,” said Washington National Guard Senior

Airman Charlotte Gibson. “We just keep pushing on, doing what we can as slowly and meticulously as we can to make sure we don’t miss anything.”

Despite the new rain, water levels on the eastern side of the slide area receded, uncovering flattened homes and crushed cars that previously were inaccessible.

Boats with dogs on board searched the areas, and crews inserted underwater cameras into vehicles to see if anybody was inside. Excavators pulled one car out of the muck, but it was unclear if they discovered anybody.

The moisture made the already treacherous surface even more unstable and raised concern about the safety of collapsed hillside above them.

“Right now there (is) no risk of additional slides, but we’re watching the rain,” said Steven Thomsen, the county’s public works director. “If it starts to move, we’ll pull the crews out, but we don’t see that happening.”

A University of Washington researcher now says there were two major slides on Saturday morning.

The bigger slide that hit Oso lasted more than two minutes, and was followed four minutes later by the second one, wrote Kate Allstadt on the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network blog.

Seismic signals also recorded more than a dozen smaller slides that continued for more than an hour.

“The big pulse was the main volume of material that broke down from the slope and tumbled down toward that valley,” said Bill Steele, the seismology lab coordinator and spokesman for the seismic network. “Another big pulse followed that, breaking loose another section of unstable slope.”

The seismic signals showed that the slide was not triggered by an earthquake, Allstadt said.

Last modified: March 27. 2014 7:14PM
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