Official number of landslide victims rises to 24

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by JONATHAN J. COOPER and LISA BAUMANN / Associated Press and KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on March 31, 2014 at 6:19 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 31 at 7:21 PM

The latest:

  • The Snohomish County medical examiner's office has received a total of 24 victims from the Oso landslide.
  • Governor Jay Inslee has requested President Obama to make a disaster declaration for Snohomish County to bring additional federal resources.

DARRINGTON, Wash.  -- Estimated financial losses from the deadly Washington mudslide that has killed at least 24 people have reached $10 million, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday in a letter asking the federal government for a major disaster declaration.

In seeking additional federal help following one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, Inslee said about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7 million in structures and more than $3 million in their contents, Inslee's letter said.

The Snohomish County medical examiner's office said Monday evening that it has received a total of 24 victims; 18 of those have been positively identified. Previously, the official death toll was 21, with 15 victims identified.

Authorities have said more than two dozen people remain missing following the March 22 slide that destroyed a rural mountainside community northeast of Seattle.

Inslee is also seeking federal help with funeral expenses for up to 48 people, and mental health care programs for survivors, volunteers, community members and first responders.

Monday's request asks for access to disaster housing, disaster grants, disaster-related unemployment insurance, and crisis counseling programs for those in Snohomish County and for the Stillaguamish, Sauk-Suiattle and Tulalip Indian tribes.

Steve Harris, a division supervisor for the search effort, said Monday that search teams have been learning more about the force of the slide, helping them better locate victims in a debris field that is 70 feet deep in places.

"There's a tremendous amount of force and energy behind this," Harris said of the slide.

Harris said search dogs are the primary tool for finding victims, and searchers are finding human remains four to six times per day. Sometimes crews only find partial remains, which makes the identification process harder.

Meanwhile, members of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Sounders soccer team were scheduled to visit with community members Monday evening.

Crews clear path through Oso landslide debris

The National Guuard says these search and recovery missions are difficult and sensitive, but they’ve been training for a year for these types of disasters and want to help.

Related: Remembering those lost

"We start early and we work as long as we can based on the resources we have. But it's not just about the National Guard. It’s about all the responders, the police officers, the firefighters, the search and rescue, the community. It's a strong community and I'm proud to be here and I'm thankful I was called. We're here to help,” said Technical Sgt. Joseph Neville, Colorado National Guard.

Crews have cleared a path through the muck and devastation wrought by Washington's deadly mudslide, making the painstaking search for victims easier.

The makeshift road completed over the weekend links one side of the 300-acre debris field to the other. Crews have also been working to clear mud and debris from the highway, leaving piles of gooey muck, splintered wood and housing insulation on the sides of the road.Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including household chemicals, septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers. When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed off by hazardous materials crews.

"We're worried about dysentery, we're worried about tetanus, we're worried about contamination," said Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department. "The last thing we want to do is take any of these contaminants out of here and take them into town."

  • A 24-hour crisis line has been set up for anyone feeling grief who needs to talk to someone: 800-584-3578.
  • If you have been affected by the slide and need help please email Jesse Jones: getjesse@king5.com.

The slide dammed up the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, causing water to pool up on the east side. The river cut a new channel through the mud, but rain has raised the water level nearly a foot, said Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for the team working on the eastern portion of the slide.

In at least one place, the water level got so high that it covered areas that have already been searched, said Tim Pierce, leader of Washington Task Force 1, a search-and-rescue team.

Searchers should get some relief with mainly dry weather forecast Monday through Wednesday in western Washington.

In addition to searching for people, searchers are also collecting personal items like photos or scrapbooks. They're being decontaminated and put in a safe place where they could be distributed to their rightful owners.

KING 5's Teresa Yuan and Jake Whittenberg contributed to thie report.

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