2nd UPDATE — (with 68 photos) — Death toll now at 30; quest to ID remains brings mystery after mudslide
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The Associted Press
Medical investigator Deb Hollis, left, embraces dog handler Christi Dudzik as therapy dog Paddy looks on at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office on Wednesday (April 2).
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The Associated Press
A tattered flag, found in the debris of a deadly mudslide, is flown at a staging area for emergency workers on state Highway 530.
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The Associated Press
A stuffed bear sits with other items found Wednesday (April 2) in the mudslide's debris field.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Benton County assistant fire chief Jack Coats surveys the landscape at the scene of the deadly mudslide on Wednesday. An excavator works below to clear a drainage channel.
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The Associated Press
Searchers work with heavy equipment near the edge of the deadly mudslide on Wednesday (April 2).
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
A now-barren hillside overlooks the valley below at the scene of the deadly mudslide on Wednesday (April 2).
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Marcus Yam/The Seattle Times via The Associated Press
Rescue workers dig through a pile of debris marked with "PV" (Possible Victim) in the flooded areas on the east side of the massive mudslide along Highway 530 near Darrington on Saturday. , March 29, 2014. Marcus yam/The Seattle Times
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The Associated Press
A flag flies at half-staff on a log Sunday with the slope of the massive Oso mudslide in the background.
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The Associated Press
Firefighters carefully cross a pool of water, using a fallen tree as a path, at the west side of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 on Sunday, March 30.
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The Associated Press
A rescue worker with his mudied work boots taped to his pants
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The Associated Press
A search dog and its handlers at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press
Taken before the mudslide, this photo provided by parents Amanda Skorjanc and Ty Suddarth shows little Duke Suddarth asleep near a dog. The 5-month-old baby rescued from the Oso landslide was listed Sunday in serious condition but improving at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
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The Associated Press
Rescue workers use chainsaws and other tools to dig through a tangle of trees and mud marked as having a possible victim of the Oso mudslide.
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The Associated Press
A searcher walks through the scene of the mudslide.
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The Associated Press
A basketball floats amid muck and debris left by the Oso mudslide along State Route 530 near Darrington.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Workers and volunteers observe a moment of silence outside of the Oso Fire Department at 10:37 a.m. Saturday, exactly one week after a fatal mudslide struck just east of the small community.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Searchers pause for a moment of silence at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Searchers pause for a moment of silence at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Rescue workers continue to search the muck and debris left by the Oso mudslide along State Route 530 near Darrington.
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The Associated Press
A customer rests her hands on a tee-shirt for sale at an Arlington sporting goods store, with proceeds to be directed to victims of the deadly landslide.
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Seattle Times/Mike Siegel via The Associated Press
Members of the Air Force National Guard including Major Tawny Dotson, left, and Master Sgt. Chris Martin are assisting with search and rescue efforts at the Oso mudslide.
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The Associated Press
A mangled vehicle sticks up amid debris pulled from the west site of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 on Friday.
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The Associated Press (Click on photo to enlarge)
Workers help clear and sort the remains of houses at the west site of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 on Friday.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
A worker carries bags of personal belongings collected from debris at the scene of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Workers use heavy equipment to clear trees and other debris Thursday as the search continued for victims of the massive mudslide near Oso.
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The Associated Press (Click on photo to enlarge)
Four search and rescue workers wade through water covering State Highway 530 on Thursday.
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The Associated Press
Snohomish County Fire District 1 battalion chief Steve Mason speaks with the news media on Friday near the site of the deadly mudslide.
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Seattle Times/Marcus Yam via The Asociated Press
Firefighters help unload publicly donated equipment to aid the search and rescue operations in the aftermath of the massive 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
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
A military helicopter flies Thursday, March 27, 2014, over mud and debris from the massive mudslide.
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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 Seattle Times/Marcus Yam via The Associated Press
At Darrington High School, local residents reach out and pray with one another at a community prayer vigil for the victims and survivors of the massive mudslide.
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The Associated Press
Workers comb through debri at the site of the deadly mudslide.
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The Associated Press (click on photo to enlarge)
Workers at the mudslide site before stopping for a moment of silence on Saturday
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The Associated Press
A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from the Port Angeles air station, piloted by 
Lt. Cmdr. Edward Geraghty and Lt. Jared Hylander, flies along the upper edge of the Oso mudslide on Monday. The helicopter flight was part of federal assistance in the continuing search-and-rescue operation.
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The Associated Press
A member of the congregation at Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in Darrington raises her hand as she sings during Sunday morning church services. Much of the music and speaking was devoted to reaction to the deadly mudslide that hit the nearby community of Oso.
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The Associated Press
A long-arm excavator Tuesday works the debris from the mudslide.
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The Associated Press
A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from the Port Angeles air station, piloted by 
Lt. Cmdr. Edward Geraghty and Lt. Jared Hylander, flies along the upper edge of the Oso mudslide on Monday. The helicopter flight was part of federal assistance in the continuing search-and-rescue operation.
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The Associated Press
A search worker Tuesday walks near a camper shell in the debris from the deadly mudslide.

By LISA BAUMANN
The Associated Press

Injured Oso baby now in satisfactory condition
SEATTLE — The 5-month-old boy who was injured in the Oso mudslide, Duke Suddarth, was upgraded to satisfactory condition and transferred Tuesday from Harborview Medical Center to Children's Hospital in Seattle for follow-up treatment.

His mother, Amanda Skorjanc, remains in satisfactory condition at Harborview, awaiting more surgeries.

Three men injured in the March 22 landslide also remain at Harborview Wednesday.

The hospital says a 37-year-old and an 81-year-old are both in serious condition in the intensive care unit and improving.

A 58-year-old is in satisfactory condition.
EDITOR'S NOTE — The Daily Herald of Everett, a sister newspaper of the Peninsula Daily News, has in-depth coverage of the Oso slide. Latest slide and Snohomish County information can be found on the Herald’s website, www.heraldnet.com.

Related story: "Snohomish County mudslide — how to donate to victims, how to report someone missing": http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20140328/NEWS/303289959


EVERETT — As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 30 people known killed when the Oso mudslide wiped out dozens of homes, one mystery troubles them.

One set of remains does not fit with the description on the missing persons list, which, as of Thursday included 17 people.

The medical examiners know it is a male.

But his remains give no clue as to who he was, or who might be looking for him. They can't even identify his age range. Without possible family members to compare, DNA tests are useless. At this point, gold teeth are all they have to go on.

The mystery underscores the tedious process of identifying remains more than a week after the March 22 landslide that broke off a steep hill, roared across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and buried the homes outside Oso, a small mountainside community about 55 miles north of Seattle.

Like the homes, the cars and the other parts of people's lives swept away by the torrent of mud, some bodies are in pieces.

Norman Thiersch, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner, said the goal of the team — which is made up of medical examiners, detectives, dentists and others — is to make sure there's no doubt as to the identities of the victims.

"This is not television," he said. "These are methodical, painstaking processes we go through."

Although the identities of 28 of the 30 confirmed dead have been determined, officials have so far released the names of only 27.

Other names are expected to be released by the end of the week.

HOW ARE THE BODIES PROCESSED?

When bodies or remains are found in the mudslide area, crews dig them out and they are flown by helicopter to a nearby landing pad where they are readied to move to the medical examiner's office in Everett, about 30 miles from the scene.

Once there, the bodies are moved to a tented area for decontamination, where they are cleaned in warm water. From there they are moved to the autopsy room where examiners take fingerprints, look for signs of dental work and identifying marks such as tattoos.

When that work is complete, remains are moved to a refrigerated area where they stay until funeral homes make arrangements for burial or cremation.


WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG TO IDENTIFY BODIES?

The process for identifying remains, some of which are partial, is careful work, especially when trauma is involved, Thiersch said.

“This isn't going into a room and saying, 'This is him,'” he said.

Efforts to identify using dental work, fingerprints or tattoos, can take time and if that doesn't work, officials turn to DNA testing.

But that works best in cases in which a close family member can give a sample for comparison.

They've only needed to use DNA testing to identify one of the slide victims. At the same time, detectives are working to help determine identities by using information from families, social media accounts and belongings from the site.


HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE WORKING THERE? WHAT DO THEY DO?

The regular staff of about 12 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office has been supported with dozens of professionals from King, Pierce, Skagit and Kitsap counties and members of the Air National Guard.

Medical examiners are working with pathologists, dentists and medical investigators to clean bodies, take fingerprints, and note tattoos or other distinguishing features. Detectives and other professionals do online research and call families to determine the identities of the victims.


HOW DO WORKERS COPE IN THESE SITUATIONS?

People working at the medical examiner's office are doing everything from calling family members to cleaning bodies and the stress takes a toll.

On Wednesday, a therapy dog named Paddington comforted members of the Air National Guard and medical investigators.

A team of county mental health workers was expected to visit the office later this week to meet with workers one-on-one.

Medical examiner's office deputy director Dennis Peterson said staff has been so dedicated to the work that he's had to “kick them out” to force them to rest.


HOW LONG BEFORE ALL REMAINS ARE IDENTIFIED?

Officials said Wednesday they expect all remains currently at the medical examiner's office to be identified by later this week, except for the one man. Investigators are still working to determine his identity.

“We make no assumptions,” Snohomish County Sheriff's office Sgt. Shawn Stich said, noting they will not give up the investigation.

“It's such a big impact on our community, and that's why we are here.”

Last modified: April 04. 2014 12:21AM
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