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Rescuers now admit they are looking for almost 200 missing in killer Washington landslide: Officials doubt anyone else will be plucked alive from the mud after 14 DEAD bodies are found
There is only one way searchers are narrowing the list of 90 people still missing seven days after a landslide obliterated the mountain community of Oso: by digging.
There are no more phone calls being made out of the Snohomish County Emergency Operations Center to determine whether some on the list were away and just haven't checked in since Saturday morning's slide. No house checks in nearby neighborhoods to see if someone may have been missed.
That left authorities to prepare the public for an announcement Friday morning that the official death toll was set to rise from 17. They previously acknowledged at least another nine bodies had been located but not yet recovered.
Family members have reported additional fatalities but authorities were carefully coordinating with the National Guard and the county medical examiner's office to process the bodies that have been recovered.
"We understand there has been confusion over the reported number of fatalities," Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots said Thursday night in a statement. "This has been a challenging process for all of us."
"That number is going to likely change very, very much tomorrow morning," Hots said at a Thursday evening news briefing.
In nearly the same breath, he continued to insist the searchers may still find survivors, though that belief appeared to be waning.
"I want to brace everybody that the chance is very slim," Hots said. "But we haven't given up."
The possibility that dozens more people may be buried in the debris pile besides the 26 bodies already found has the potential to place Oso, with a total population of about 180, among the worst tragedies in Washington state history.
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people and a 1910 avalanche near Stevens Pass swept away two trains and killed 96.
"We do know this could end up being the largest mass loss of Washingtonians," Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday. "We're looking for miracles to occur."
Besides the 90 missing, authorities are checking into 35 other people who may or may not have been in the area at the time of the slide. A group of people with the county emergency operations center is now making calls to eliminate that more-speculative list, said Marybeth O'Leary, a spokeswoman for the emergency operations center.
"They are names that are not complete names," she said. "They're things like 'I work with a guy named Bill, he didn't show up to work today.'"
The governor has asked for more federal assistance, saying $4.5 million was expected to be spent on the response to the mudslide. Inslee's request was to expand Monday's federal emergency declaration that provided response teams and equipment.
Rain fell on the searchers Thursday, but the water levels on the eastern side of the slide area receded and uncovered flattened homes and crushed cars that previously had been inaccessible. An inch more was in the forecast for Friday.
Boats searched the area with dogs and crews inserted underwater cameras into vehicles to see if anybody was inside. Excavators pulled one car out of the muck, but it was unclear if they had discovered anybody inside.
The searchers walked on plywood pathways to keep from sinking into the sucking slurry. The moisture made the already treacherous surface even more unstable for workers exhausted after days of searching.
"If you could imagine houses, trees and a bunch of mud put in a blender, run for a bit and dumped back on the ground, that's what it looks like," said Washington National Guard Master Sgt. Chris Martin.
It's not only the people who are showing signs of strain.
The dogs leading searchers to possible human remains can sense stress, incident spokesman Bob Calkins said. They also can become bored by the repetition, and their handlers must take them away from the work area for a time, he said
"The real key is for the handlers to stay positive, because stress on the part of the handlers goes right down the leash to the dogs," Calkins said.
The county medical examiner's office has so far formally identified five victims: Christina Jefferds, 45, of Arlington; Stephen A. Neal, 55, of Darrington; Linda L. McPherson, 69, of Arlington; Kaylee B. Spillers, 5, of Arlington and William E. Welsh, 66, of Arlington.
The body of Jefferds' granddaughter, 4-month-old Sanoah Huestis, was found Thursday, said Dale Petersen, the girl's great-uncle.
Petersen said he arrived on the scene to help look for survivors to find that work had stopped. A firefighter informed him and others that the infant had been found, Petersen said.
He said the news provides closure for the family.
"We spent a lot of time together," he said of the baby girl.
Five people injured by the mudslide remain in a Seattle hospital, including a 5-month-old boy in critical condition.
Fears are growing that a disaster of massive proportions struck Oso, Washington after the number of dead from Saturday's landslide was confirmed to be at least 14 with 176 others missing. Earlier in the day, that number was 108.
More than 100 rescuers with dogs, aircraft and sonar equipment scoured the remnants of the steep hillside in the remote town, 50 miles north of Seattle looking for the nearly 200 people - some using chain saws and their bare hands to to dig through the mangled wreckage.
The death toll so far stood at eight on Monday morning, but the tragic discovery of six bodies in the evening was announced via Twitter hours after emergency management officials expressed doubt anyone else would be plucked alive from the muck that engulfed dozens of homes.
More than 100 properties were hit in the massive landslide when a rain-soaked hillside near Oso, Washington, collapsed on Saturday morning.
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Sheer scale: The massive mudslide that killed at least 14 people on Saturday and left 176 missing is shown in this aerial photo taken on Monday, March 24, 2014, near Arlington, Washington
Mammoth: The search for survivors grew desperate on Monday, raising fears that the death toll could climb far beyond the eight confirmed fatalities
Hit like a bulldozer: Houses and other structures are shown flooded by the backed-up Stillaguamish River up-river from the massive mudslide that killed at least eight people on Saturday and left dozens missing
Search: From a helicopter, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary surveys the wreckage of homes destroyed in Saturday's mudslide near Oso, Washington as the search for survivors grew on Monday to include scores of people who were still unaccounted for
Grim: The death toll so far stood at eight on Monday morning, but the tragic discovery of six bodies on Monday evening was announced via Twitter hours after emergency management officials expressed doubt anyone else would be plucked alive
Devastation: Search and rescue personnel continue working the area of Saturday's mudslide, at Oso, Washington
Apocalyptic: Steve Skaglund walks across the rubble on the east side of Saturday's fatal mudslide
Tribute: A bouquet of flowers left for victims sits perched on the seat of an abandoned vehicle in the wreckage of homes destroyed by Saturday's mudslide, Monday, March 24, 2014, near Oso, Washington
Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said the number of people unaccounted for had ballooned from 18 to 176 - and The County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots told reporters that 'the situation is very grim' - but emphasized that many of those names could be duplicates.
'We're holding out hope, but keep in mind we've not found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday,' he said.
'The 176, I believe very strongly is not a number we're going to see in fatalities. I believe it's going to drop dramatically,' he said.
The list of the 176 missing is in some instances is very vague, said Pennington.
'In some cases, that list is very detailed. It's 'John, who has brown hair, blue eyes and lived in this particular neighborhood.' Pennington said.
'In a lot of cases, it's a name like Frank, 'I met him once. I think he lived over there.'
However, while they do not expect the death toll to match the number of missing, they are concerned that many people were home when the slide struck at 11am on Saturday with such power it was described as being like a 'bulldozer'.
Several dozen homes were believed to have sustained some damage from the slide, Pennington told reporters at a command post in the nearby town of Arlington.
Missing: 13-year-old Jovon Mangual,(holding his sister Brooke) stands alongside his sister Kaylee Spillers and brother Jacob (in blue t-shirt). Jacob managed to escape their Oso, Washington home on Saturday and was returned to his mother Jonielle Spillers (right). His brother and two sisters and father Billy Spillers are still missing.
Father and his children: Jovon Mangual (left in blue and right in football gear), Kaylee (as a tiger and right in pink) Brooke (pumpkin) and Jacob as a bumblebee pose for a picture on Halloween - and right with Billy Spillers - who is also missing
The National Guard is expected to arrive on Tuesday morning to aid the search of the leveled homes and cars across the 1-mile square area hit.
Tragic stories from relatives of those missing are already emerging.
Jonielle Spillers, a nursing assistant fears that she may have lost three of her four children and her husband - while her youngest boy managed to barely escape the slide.
Her son Jovon Mangual, his half-sisters Kaylee Spillers, 5, Brooke Spillers, 2 and Jonielle's husband Billy Spillers are all missing.
According to Jovon's father, Jose Mangual, a staff sergeant in the US Army, the Spillers moved from Seattle to Oso two years ago.
He said that he had spoken to Jovon's 4-year-old half-brother Jacob Spillers who described the terrifying scene when the landslide struck.
According to Jacob, Billy Spillers - a chief petty officer in the Navy - was watching television with the three missing children when the land gave way.
Jacob said that he was on the second floor of the house and manged somehow to get away.
On her Facebook profile, Jonielle thanked everyone for their support and said she was 'not giving up and I know they will find my babies and husband....please pray for us.'
Huge numbers: Authorities say they still don't know how many people remain missing from a deadly Washington state mudslide. Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said late Monday that officials were working off a potential list of 176 people, but he stressed that authorities believed that included many duplicate names
Unrecognizable: Mudflows forver changed the landscape of this area one hour north of Seattle
Amphibious: Search and rescue workers set up along a flooded portion of Highway 530 down the road from a massive landslide outside Darrington, Washington March 24, 2014
Intensive: Rescue workers and a search dog head out to continue searching for missing people caught in a massive landslide along Highway 530 near Darrington, Washington March 24, 2014
Staggering: At least 14 people have died. Officials say they are still culling through multiple reports of people who may have lived or worked in the area. The slide smashed through a small community about 55 miles north of Seattle on Saturday morning
Gone: The entire side of this small mountain was washed away
Other family members of the missing such as Pete Bellomo, of Bellevue spent the day trying to find out any information on his daughter Shelley and her partner Jerry Logan.
He did not hold out hope they would be found alive.
'No, no, I don’t think there’s any chance of that ... but I haven’t been informed of anything yet,' he said to the Seattle Times.
Thomas Durnell, 65, was at home when the landslide piled into his house and is missing according to his daughter Pam Keller.
Caroline Neal hopes her missing father, Steven, 52, will still be rescued. He's a plumber who was on a service call when the land gave way.
'My dad is a quick thinker, and he is someone who takes action in an emergency,' Neal told CNN affiliate KING. 'If he had any warning at all, we just have to think he is somewhere and he's safe and they just can't reach him right now.
One retired lumber mill worker, Reed Miller, told Seattle television station KOMO-TV that his riverfront house was demolished by the slide, and that his 47-year-old son, Joseph. with whom he shared the home, was probably swept away with it.
'Well, he was at home. As far as I know he's gone,' said Miller, who was at a grocery store in town at the time. 'There's no official (word) that he's been found yet, but he could be buried. I just don't know.'
Pain: Brenda Neal (R) is consoled by Carol Massingale after looking at aerial posted photos of a massive landslide for her missing husband in Darrington, Washington March 24, 2014
Missing: In this undated photo provided by Nichole Webb Rivera, her daughter, Delaney Webb, (left), and her fiance, Alan Bejvl, (left), who are missing as a result of the huge landslide are shown while (right) Thom and Marcy Satterlee who are also missing are shown
Cory Kuntz and several volunteers worked Monday with chain saws to cut through the roof of his uncle's house, which was swept about 150 yards from its previous location. Kuntz said his aunt, Linda McPherson, was killed. He and the others pulled out files, his aunt's wallet and a box filled with pictures and slides.
Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management officials say the area has a history of unstable land. A slide also happened there in 2006. Authorities believe the latest slide was caused by recent heavy rainfall that saturated and destabilized the ground. David Montgomery, an earth and space sciences professor at the University of Washington, said these deep-seated slides tend to occur from rainfall over months or seasons. 'This was a big deep one, a giant slump,' he said.
McPherson was branch manager of the Darrington library and served for about 15 years on the local school board.
Her husband Gary McPherson was injured in the landslide too but survived.
'When you look at it, you just kind of go in shock, and you kind of go numb,' he said, adding that there were more people out helping Sunday. On Monday, they couldn't get through roadblocks.
'They are all eager to get down here, but unfortunately they can't. It just shows how tight this community is,' he said.
Doug Reuwsaat, who grew up in the area and was also helping in the search, said authorities had told people to stay away.
'We're related to a lot of these people from around here. So that's why we're here,' he said.
Among those who are missing are the wife and granddaughter of Oso firefighter Seth Jeffereds.
He and his stepdaughter were out collecting errands when the landslide began according to him.
Christina Jeffereds, 45, was at home babysitting 4-month old Sanoah Huestis when the earth began to move.
Also, Barbara Welsh, who spoke to reporters at a news briefing on Monday said that she hadn't seen her husband, William Welsh since Saturday.
Searching: Married grandfather Steve Neal, 52, is also reportedly among the missing
Family members say Christina Jefferds and granddaughter Sanoah Huestis have both been missing since the devastating mudslide
Among the missing: Summer Raffo's family says she is still unaccounted for and may have been trapped in her vehicle
Frustrations were growing as family members and neighbors waited for official word on the missing and the dead. Elaine Young and her neighbors uncovered several bodies Sunday and had to contact authorities to get them removed.
Late on Saturday, rescuers heard people yelling for help but were unable to reach anyone. The soupy, quicksand-like mud was so thick and deep that searchers had to turn back. When crews were able to get back onto the debris field Sunday, they found only more bodies. 'We didn't see or hear any signs of life,'Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said Sunday evening.
They also found a chocolate Labrador named Buddy alive, and helped pull the dog from the rubble, leading her to wonder if other survivors could be out there, desperate for help.
'If we found a dog alive yesterday afternoon that we cut out of a part of a house, doesn't that seem that maybe somebody could be stuck up under part of a house and be alive too?' asked Young, whose home survived the slide but was on the edge of the devastation.
Nichole Webb Rivera told the Seattle Times she frantically called and texted her parents, her daughter and her daughter’s fiance when the massive hillside collapsed.
Rivera said her parents, Thom and Marcy Satterlee, lived near the center of the slide, and she doesn’t believe they made it out.
She said her 20-year-old daughter, Delaney Webb, and Webb’s fiance were visiting the older couple at the time.
Rivera lives in Houston but has traveled to Washington following the slide. She said Monday after visiting the area: 'We’ve lost four.'
Ron Thompson, whose home was destroyed, stopped by the evacuation shelter at Post Middle School in Arlington to find out if his friends turned up alive. 'We lost a lot of good kids. I don’t know what else to tell you. It hurts,’ he said before driving away.
Also among the missing was a group of girls who had been having a slumber party, according to a resident interviewed by The Seattle Times.
Retired firefighter Gail Moffett, who lives in Oso, said she knows about 25 people who are missing, including entire families with young children.
'It's safe to say I'll know everyone affected or who they are,' Moffett said. 'There's so much pain going on in the community right now.'
Among the injured were a mother and her baby. Amanda Skorjanc, 25, was in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
Her son, 22-week-old Duke Suddarth, remained in critical condition and was improving, Gregg said. Three other men were in serious condition.
'Pray with us': A flag flies Monday morning from a small church off the highway leading to the scene of the deadly mudslide
Brought tears tears: Snohomish County Executive John Lovick wipes his eyes Monday as he listens during a news conference about the deadly mudslide
Sad days: Jason Anderson (left) searches through rubble for bodies on Sunday and Arlington City Manager Allen Johnson (right) stands, paused as if in disbelief, after listening to the Monday morning news conference
Long days ahead: Allen Johnson, center, Arlington City Manager, stands with city council member Jan Schuette, left, and former council member Linda Byrnes after listening to Monday's press conference
Forever changed: The extensive damage of the landslide after taking out a chunk of earth from the side of the hill facing the Stillaguamish River
More than 100 properties in all were hit by the cascading mud, 49 of which had a house, cabin or mobile home on them. At least 25 of those homes were believed to have been occupied year round, and 10 others were part-time or vacation homes, Pennington said.
The search for victims resumed under partly cloudy skies on Monday after treacherous quicksand-like conditions forced rescue workers to suspend their efforts at dusk on Sunday. Some workers, mired in mud up to their armpits, had to be dragged to safety.
Members of a search team were forced to retreat again from the western edge of the slide area after movement was detected along a 1,500-foot (460-meter) stretch of earth, said Rebecca Hover, a spokeswoman for the county executive's office.
The first eight bodies were found by Sunday evening in the square-mile (2.6 square km) disaster zone of tangled debris, rocks, trees and mud, a sheriff's spokesman said. The late afternoon Twitter bulletin on Monday said the remains of six more victims had also been found.
Still reeling: Barbara Welsh, left, is comforted by her niece Tammy Oommen, right, as the pair listen to Governor Jay Inslee during a Sunday press conference (pictured left), and a reflecter is seen among the debris flowing down the Stillaguamish River (right)
Staggering loss: A flag sits on top of what was Cory Kuntz and his family's home. The family was at a baseball game when the river of mud swept through the area and leveled their home
Debris: Water and mud back up on the east side of Saturday's fatal mudslide near Oso, in Washington
Search operation: A rescue helicopter flies above the area on Sunday surveying the damage and looking for survivors or bodies
Here to help: This search helicopter looks for bodies - alive or dead - among the ruins of the catastrophic mudflow
All that's left: A Little League picture frame caked with mud sits outside after flooding caused the mudslides
Officer Aaron Snell, a spokesman for the police department in nearby Everett, said all 14 bodies had been recovered. Another eight people were injured in the landslide.
Authorities on Monday also reported a sharp jump in the number of people listed as unaccounted for in the chaos after the disaster, heightening fears the casualty toll could climb even higher.
'The number is, I think no question, going to decline dramatically. But it is a number that we want to just go ahead and disclose and say, 'That's what we're working with,'' Pennington said.
Nothing but memories: A woman holds family photos pulled from the rubble of her home
Temporary relief: Kristopher Langton (left) is pictured holding his five-month-old son Kristian Langton after eating dinner with wife LoAnna Langton (right) at a temporary Red Cross shelter at the Darrington Community Center in Darrington, Washington
Warm and dry: Donations of clothing and shoes are pictured at a temporary Red Cross shelter at the Darrington Community Center in Darrington, Washington
Making the most of a bad situation: Trista Bonus (left), 11, watches an online news clip about the mudslide with LoAnna Langton, Kristian Langton (five months), and Elijah Kristopher Langton, 11, at the shelter
Devoted father: Kristopher Langton shares a moment with his son, Kristian Langton (five months), at the shelter
The potential number of victims in harm's way was higher on a Saturday, with many people at home, than on a weekday when more residents would have been at work or school, Pennington said. He said search teams were also trying to account for an unspecified number of construction workers who were in the area and motorists who were driving by at the time.
But authorities were hoping many of those reported as missing would turn out to be survivors who were either double-counted or slow in alerting loved ones and local officials as to their whereabouts.
The slide in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains along the Stillaguamish River piled mud, boulders and rubble up to 15 feet deep in some places.
It blocked the flow of the river, backing up water behind a natural dam left in the stream's channel that caused flooding of seven homes upstream of the slide, Pennington said.
'The bad news is that the water continues to rise and homes are inundated up to the eaves in many cases,' he said. 'If there is a silver lining in that event ... it is that it is a slow, methodical rise. You can see the danger.'
Destruction: A demolished house sits in the mud on Highway 530 on Sunday, a day after a giant landslide occurred near Oso, in Washington
Brian Anderson, left, and Coby Young search through the wreckage of a home belonging to the Kuntz family - who escaped certain doom while attending a Saturday morning baseball game
Grim task: Volunteers Frank and Rhonda Cook watch as the final body they recovered on Sunday afternoon is lifted into a helicopter
Authorities said as the volume and pressure of water behind the dam continued to build, there was a chance that additional downstream flooding and mud flows could be unleashed.
Water from the river was trickling through the side of the debris plug and creating a new stream channel, prompting authorities to post observation teams downstream to watch for signs of danger, state emergency management officials said.
Hots said Monday's search for victims would incorporate the use of aircraft, teams with search dogs and special electronic equipment.
'Also, the Washington State Department of Transportation is going to have heavy equipment out there to clear mud out of the way so that we can continue to search those areas,' he said.
Authorities believe Saturday's slide was caused by recent heavy rains that made the terrain unstable.
From the beginning, rescue crews on the ground have faced dangerous and unpredictable conditions as they navigated quicksand-like mud that was 15 feet deep in some places. Some who went in got caught up to their armpits in the thick, sticky sludge.
From another angle: An aerial view of the Stillaguamish River and the extensive damage from the landslide, along State Route 530 between the cities of Arlington and Darrington
This and the clothes on her back: Robin Youngblood, who survived the landslide that destroyed her house, holds the only item that survived the disaster, a painting of a Cherokee warrior that was knocked from the wall and muddied
Scarred: An aerial view shows a huge volume of earth missing from the side of a hill facing Stillaguamish River
The threat of potential flash floods or another landslide also loomed over rescuers. On Monday, some crews had to pull back because of concern that a hillside could shift.
The spirits of search-and-rescue teams were raised late Saturday when they heard cries for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and shattered wood. But no one else has been found alive.
The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which is continuing to back up, officials said. Authorities said Monday at least seven homes are now flooded, and more flooding is expected.
Frequent, heavy rain and steep geography make the area prone to landslides. Less than a decade ago, another slide hit in the same general area.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as 'a square mile of total devastation' after flyingover the disaster area Sunday. He assured families that everything was being done to find their missing loved ones.
Update: Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots speaks to the media in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, following the massive mudslide which wiped out homes and killed at least eight
Operation: Snohomish County Sheriff officers monitor the scene along Highway 530 on Sunday close to where the mudslide took place
Giving what they can: Volunteers carry supplies to help set up an evacuation center at Post Middle School in Arlington to assist those impacted by the landslide
The impacted area: A massive mudslide occurred in rural Snohomish County about 55 miles north of Seattle, Washington state, on Saturday morning
Where to go: A sign is placed to direct those in need to a Red Cross shelter at Post Middle School in Arlington, Washington
On Monday, President Barack Obama declared an emergency, ordering federal aid for the struggling community and federal agencies to coordinate relief efforts.
Barbara Welsh went to Monday's news briefing in Arlington to get more information. She said she has not seen her husband, William Welsh, since Saturday, when he went to help someone in Oso with a water tank.
Bruce Blacker, who lives just west of the slide, doesn't know the whereabouts of six neighbors.
'It's a very close-knit community,' Blacker said as he waited at an Arlington roadblock before troopers let him through.
Smashed: A mudslide carried a house with people inside across a road in rural Snohomish County on Saturday
Splintered: One of the homes brought down by the fatal mudslide
Such devastation ... my prayers to all of the families!
WOW...my condolences to all the families and I pray that you can all heal from this terrible tragedy.
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