Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said the county will end the “active search” for victims of the March 22 mudslide that killed at least 41 people and covered state Highway 530 near Oso.
It was a “difficult decision,” but the search will now be specifically focused on areas where the two people believed missing in the debris field may be located, Trenary said during a media briefing this morning. He said the search would be “tactical” and depends on removing water from the Darrington side of the slide.
He acknowledged there is a possibility the victims will not be recovered. However, he stressed that the search will continue, but will be far more limited in scope and manpower. He noted that at its peak, the search involved as many as 1,000 people a day. It will now involve about 30 people. Many of the support workers in Arlington will return to their normal jobs.
“We’re now at a smaller scale … searching a much smaller area,” Trenary said.
He said deciding to scale back the search was difficult because “we know Kris [Regelbrugge] and Steve [Hadaway]’s families are both looking for closure.” Asked if the families of the two people missing supported today’s action, Trenary said only that he had talked to a number of families who had lost loved ones in the slide and he will not discuss those conversations.
Hadaway’s body is believed to be in a wet, deep pool that will need to be drained before further searching is practical, Trenary said. To date, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has received the remains of 41 victims from the slide and has identified all of them.
Frank Hadaway, one of Steve Hawaway’s three brothers, said he understood the decision the county announced today. “The amazing thing is that of 43 people who were lost, 41 were found. So, do I have an issue? No. Reality is reality. We knew this day was coming sooner or later.” He said he still remains hopeful that his brother’s remains would be found.
As debris removal begins, passive search operations will continue. Spotters in the field will work alongside heavy equipment operators to identify personal property that might still be in the slide material. An active search could resume if conditions change, allowing access to areas that were previously inaccessible, according to a news release .
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said this morning that the county and state will now conduct an independent review to determine what led up to the slide. The review will presumably examine whether the county took adequate steps to warn residents after previous slides.
In addition, the county will open a long-term recovery center in Darrington this week to offer services to those affected by the slide. Gary Haakenson, the county’s executive director for public safety, will lead the multi-faceted recovery effort.
In the slide, a mammoth stretch of hillside fell near the community of Oso, between Arlington and Darrington, and spread across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, covering houses and a stretch of the highway. The state Department of Transportation will soon be given access to the area to make efforts to get Highway 530 reopened.
President Obama, who viewed the slide area last week, announced $7.5 million in FEMA aid to help Snohomish County with the disaster’s costs.