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March 28, 2014 at 9:31 AM

Mudslide search hindered by wind, rain

State troopers are stationed at the traffic roadblock near mile marker 38 on Highway 530 in Darrington during heavy rain on Friday. (Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

State troopers are stationed at the traffic roadblock near mile marker 38 on Highway 530 in Darrington during heavy rain on Friday. (Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

The strongest rains of the week are expected to soak the mudslide zone today.

“The biggest challenges that they are facing right now with the heavy water is, first off, the crews are extremely wet. It’s cold there. It’s windy up there. There’s no shelter” said Tom Cooper, deputy chief of the Arlington Fire Department during a morning briefing in Darrington, east of the slide.

“There is a lot of water just flowing down the hillside, right into where their work is.  It makes the ground soggy. It makes the trees they are climbing over slippery. The mud they were working on was starting to firm up a little bit. This will cause it to probably go back to a less stable condition. You can only imagine. The rain is not going to be our friend here. But we will get around it,” Cooper said.

About 150 volunteers are working the east end of the slide, including about 85 search-and-rescue personnel and heavy-equipment operators who have been assisting with removing logs, clearing the road and other tasks.

Search dogs have been an important part of the effort

“The dogs are working wonderful, “Cooper said. “They are in there every day.”

“We are bringing in new search dogs from around the region because we wear the dogs out. They can only work so long and they need some time off. We have veterinarians on scene.”

At a news briefing in Arlington this morning, Fire Chief Travis Hots, of Snohomish County Fire District 21/22, said the death toll remains at 17 people but is still expected to climb.

He said the number has not changed because of a process under which the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office is identifying bodies and releasing names.

“This is a sensitive situation for the people who have lost their loved ones,” Hots said, praising the Medical Examiner’s Office for doing a “great job” under difficult circumstances.

Hots also said rain, wind and tough weather conditions are hampering today’s search efforts as dry ground becomes saturated with water.

“We’ve got a hard day ahead of us,” he said.

Geologists are being brought in to make sure there is not a threat of another slide, Hots said.

Fatigue is starting to wear on rescuers, Hots said.

“Some of these folks have been here since day one, and that is a huge concern for me,” he said.

Hots also touched on the “emotional toll” on searchers.

“It’s not just people who have lost loved ones, but also responders,” he said. “They are feeling it right now.”

He made an appeal to major corporations and businesses in the region to donate money to help those affected.

“Some of these people have lost their homes, some have lost their cars, some have lost their entire family. Funerals will have to be paid for. Please dig deep.”

MORE ON THE SLIDE:

Why identifying mudslide victims seems to take so long
Painful wait drags on; fire chief says death toll soon will rise
Laser maps reveal slide risk with startling clarity, but few citizens know they exist
With camo rings, young couple planned wedding by the river
Partial list of victims

Comments | More in General news, The Blotter | Topics: dead, mudslide, Oso mudslide

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