The number of those believed missing following a deadly mudslide in Washington state has plummeted to 30 after many people were found safe, authorities said late on Saturday.
Officials previously said they expected the figure previously estimated at 90 to fall as they worked to find people safe and cross-referenced a “fluid” list that likely included partial reports and duplicates.
Crews used heavy equipment, dogs and their bare hands to search in heavy rain on Saturday for more victims, week after the slide destroyed the small mountainside community of Oso, north of Seattle.
As the number of people unaccounted for went down, the fatalities went up.
The official toll of victims identified by the medical examiner on Saturday increased by one, to 18, said Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.
Authorities have recovered more than two dozen bodies including one on Saturday but they aren’t added to the official tally until a formal identification is made.
Underscoring the difficulty of identifying those killed in one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, Mr. Biermann said crews are not always discovering complete remains.
“Rescuers are not always making full recoveries,” he said. “Often, they are making partial recoveries.”
The search was going “all the way to the dirt” as crews looked for anything to provide answers for family, said Snohomish County Fire District 1 battalion chief Steve Mason. Crews are also collecting bags of personal belongings that would later be cleaned, sorted and hopefully returned to families.
All work on the debris field halted briefly on Saturday for a moment of silence to honour those lost when the slide struck March 22.
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.
Rescuers have given a cursory look at the entire debris field, 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, Mr. Harris said, but they’re getting hypothermic in the rain and muck.
The huge wall of earth that crashed into the collection of homes followed weeks of heavy rain.
Previous landslides in the U.S. 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, California, collapsed in 1928, causing an abutment to give way and killing 500 people, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.