Oso mudslide search winding down; 2 still missing

Oso mudslide search winding down; 2 still missing

Oso mudslide search winding down; 2 still missing

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by KGW.com Staff, KING5, AP and USAToday

kgw.com

Posted on April 25, 2014 at 10:14 AM

OSO, Wash. (AP) -- Five weeks after a deadly mudslide buried about three dozen homes, Snohomish County officials have scheduled a Monday news briefing to discuss plans to end active search operations in the Oso debris field.

The Daily Herald of Everett reported that the county used Facebook and its website to announce the upcoming change. In a statement, the county said Sheriff Ty Trenary will discuss the decision to end the active search while County Executive John Lovick plans to talk about long-term support efforts for the communities of Darrington, Oso and Arlington.

The bodies of 41 victims have been recovered. Two people remain missing and the search for them continues, although the number of people working at the site has dropped to a few dozen.

Initially, hundreds of people searched the debris after the March 22 landslide along the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.

Workers are also removing debris from the river and trying to clear Highway 530, which remains impassable.

Photos: Aftermath of Washington landslide

President Obama visited Oso on Tuesday as the community marked a month since the devastating landslide, crossed the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and buried a residential area.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said more than 370 individuals or families have registered for assistance.

More: Donation site for relief effort here

About 30 houses were destroyed in the slide and the debris blocked a long stretch of state highway 530 near Arlington. The mudslide struck on a Saturday morning March 22, a time when most people are at home. Of the 49 total structures in the neighborhood, authorities believe at least 25 were full-time residences.

Local seismic measurement stations clearly show that the event happened with no warning and so quickly that victims in its path had little chance to run for safety. Even if it had been slower, there would have been nowhere to run — the slide area was almost a mile across.

Remembering the victims of the Oso landslide

"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.

Much of Highway 530 was ripped off the ground.

“The power of the slide came down with so much energy and just wiped out the highway bed and there is nothing left,” said Steve Harris, division supervisor for the Department of Emergency Management.

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

More: 'If we find one more alive, it's worth it'

On April 3, President Barack Obama declared the site a major disaster area. The declaration made programs available to help affected individuals and businesses.

After touring the site of the mudslide, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said federal help will continue until "this is done."

Volunteers and over 70 members of the National Guard joined professional rescuers over the weeks to help recover the bodies of the dead and retrieve mementos for the living.

Recently, the search area was deemed contaminated due to sewage and chemicals and too dangerous for volunteers.

More: Volunteer worker injured during search

The Oso landslide is probably the second deadliest natural disaster in Washington’s history, after the 1910 Stevens Pass avalanche that killed 100 people.

A 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers state that the hillside had "the potential for a large catastrophic failure," according to an article in the Seattle Times.

When asked days after the slide whether he knew about the report, Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said he hadn't gotten a chance to look at the article.

"I want to know why this slide went," he said. "I'm not just an emergency director, I'm also a dad and I want to know why this happened. There have been warnings and advance notifications of the high risk of a landslide. We've done everything we can to mitigate that risk."

More: Oso victim search comes down to shovels

Initial death tolls were projected to be almost 200 people. But over a week into the search effort the number of missing and dead was greatly reduced.

Early into the recovery effort, Cory Kuntz and several volunteers worked with chainsaws to cut through the roof of his uncle's house. The home was swept about 150 yards from its previous location. Kuntz said his aunt, Linda McPherson, was killed. He and the others pulled files, his aunt's wallet and a box filled with pictures from the home.

"When you look at it, you just kind of go in shock, and you kind of go numb," he said.

History: What led to the Oso slide


More: Cellphone video of the slide

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