Mudslide rescue workers find two more bodies

Rescue workers digging through the devastation that followed Saturday’s landslide in Washington state found an additional two bodies Tuesday, officials said, bringing the confirmed death toll to 16.

The workers believe they may have found another eight bodies, but those have not been located and confirmed yet, so the death toll remained at 16, Travis Hots, the Snohomish County District 21 fire chief, said in a news conference Tuesday evening.

“We had a very challenging day today with the rain,” Hots said. “We continued our search-and-recovery operation on the entire slide area. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any signs of life. We didn’t find anybody alive.”

There were still 176 names on the list of people reported missing as of Tuesday night, a number that is expected to decline, said John Pennington, director of emergency management for the county. That list is believed to include duplicated names, and Pennington has said the number should “decline dramatically.”

Experts in missing persons are expected to assist county officials in working to lower that number, Pennington said.

As the search continued for a fourth day, the more than 200 rescue workers on the landslide site near Oso, Wash., about an hour north of Seattle, faced difficult terrain. Workers are navigating mud, wood, pieces of vehicles and other debris. The slide area had been compared to quicksand by some rescue workers, while rain on Tuesday added another complication.

“It’s unimaginable, the conditions out there they’re dealing with,” Hots said.

Workers have utilized everything from dogs and infrared scanners on the ground to helicopters in the air as they slowly worked to search the area. The dogs, in particular, have been the most effective way of finding bodies since Sunday, Hots said.

“We’re going to be very candid,” Pennington said during a news conference Tuesday morning. “It’s been a number of days. We requested a mortuary team to assist with this process, [which] speaks for itself.”

President Obama, speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands on Tuesday, said he spoke with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and has signed an emergency disaster declaration.

“I would just ask all Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to Washington state and the community of Oso and the families and friends of those who continue to be missing,” the president said. “We hope for the best, but we recognize that this is a tough situation.”

Despite the grim reality that no survivors had been found since Saturday, the day the slide occurred, rescue workers planned to continue “full steam ahead” in their search for bodies as well survivors, Hots said.

The Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team released dramatic video of the rescue of a boy in the immediate hours after the catastrophic mudslide in Washington state. (Reuters)

“I consider it still a rescue operation,” Hots said. “We haven’t lost hope.”

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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