Number missing in landslide drops to 30

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by KING 5 News and Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on March 29, 2014 at 9:30 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 30 at 9:47 AM

The latest:

  • The Snohomish County medical examiner identified another victim of the Oso slide, raising the number of confirmed dead to 18.
  • The Department of Emergency Management said the list of missing was lowered to 30. The previous number was 90.
  • An additional victim was found in the debris field, but was not identified.

DARRINGTON, Wash.  -- The list of people reported missing in last week's devastating landslide near Oso, Wash. dropped dramatically Saturday to 30, according to Department of Emergency management.

Officials were previously working from a list of 90 people who were unaccounted for after the landslide wiped out a neighborhood one week ago.

Jason Biermann, program manager with the Department of Emergency Management, said an additional victim was identified by the county medical examiner Saturday, bringing the official number of deaths to 18.

Another victim was also found by search crews Saturday, but the body was not recovered or identified. Biermann said searchers are finding partial remains in the almost mile-wide field of debris.

The search by heavy equipment, dogs and bare hands for victims from the deadly Washington mudslide was going "all the way to the dirt" as crews looked for anything to provide answers for family and friends.

"We have whole houses here and then we have houses that look like they've been through a blender and dropped on the ground," said Snohomish County Fire District 1 battalion chief Steve Mason.

All work on the debris field halted briefly Saturday for a moment of silence to honor those lost. Gov. Jay Inslee had asked people across Washington to pause at 10:37 a.m., the time the huge slide struck on March 22, destroying a neighborhood in the community of Oso north of Seattle.

"People all over stopped work --all searchers -- in honor of that moment, so people we are searching for know we are serious," Mason said.

An American flag had been run up a tree and then down to half-staff at the debris site, he said.

Among the dozens of missing are a man in his early 20s, Adam Farnes, and his mother, Julie.

"He was a giant man with a giant laugh," Kellie Howe said of Farnes. Howe became friends with him when he moved to the area from Alaska. She said Adam Farnes was the kind of guy who would come into your house and help you do the dishes.

Adam Farnes also played the banjo, drums and bass guitar, she said, and had worked as a telephone lineman and a 911 dispatcher.

"He loved his music loud," she said. "They still have not found him or his mom. They're going through a hard time right now.”

Related: Remembering those lost in the Oso landslide

Finding and identifying all the victims could stretch on for a very long time, and authorities have warned that not everyone may ultimately be accounted for after one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history.

Rescuers have given a cursory look at the entire debris field 55 miles northeast of Seattle, said Steve Harris, division supervisor for the eastern incident management team. They are now sifting through the rest of the fragments, looking for places where dogs should give extra attention. Only "a very small percentage" has received the more thorough examination, he said.

Dogs working four-hour shifts have been the most useful tool, Harris said, but they're getting hypothermic in the rain and muck.

"This is Western Washington, folks," Harris said. "These people are used to rain.”

Commanders are making sure people have the right gear to stay safe in the rain and potentially hazardous materials, and they're keeping a close eye on the river level to be sure nobody is trapped by rising water, he said.

At the debris site Saturday, Mason, the battalion chief, said teams first do a hasty search of any wreckage of homes they find. If nothing is immediately discovered, they do a more detailed, forensic search.

"We go all the way to the dirt," he said.

The huge wall of earth that crashed into the collection of homes followed weeks of heavy rain.

Previous slides triggered by storms included one that killed 150 people in Virginia in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969 and another that killed 129 when rain from Tropical Storm Isabel loosened tons of mud that buried the Puerto Rican community of Mameyes in 1985.

A dam in San Francisquito Canyon, Calif., collapsed in 1928, causing an abutment to give way and killing 500 people, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Crews pleaded with the public not to show up and try to help. Only local volunteers are being allowed to help rescuers.

Joe Wright of Darrington set up his tool-sharpening operation near the firehouse. He's been busy. In a little more than a day, he estimated he had sharpened more than 150 chainsaw chains dulled by rocks and dirt.

"There were people using their own saws," Wright said. "They're just trying to get down there to get the job done.”

Mayor Dan Rankin said the community had been "changed forevermore.”

"It's going to take a long time to heal, and the likelihood is we will probably never be whole," Rankin said.

The catastrophe, which followed weeks of heavy rain, was shaping up to be one of the state's worst disasters and one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history.

The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people and a 1910 avalanche near Stevens Pass that swept away two trains killed 96.

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Baumann reported from Seattle. Associated Press photographer Elaine Thompson, writer Phuong Le in Seattle and researchers Judith Ausuebel, Jennifer Farrar and Susan James contributed to this report.

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