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Mudslide missing drops to 22; 24 confirmed dead

April 1, 2014

DARRINGTON, Washington (AP) — Authorities in Washington state said Monday that they believe 22 people are still missing in the deadly mudslide that has killed at least 24 people.

That is down from the 30 people they previously considered missing.

The Snohomish County medical examiner’s office said it has positively identified 18 of the 24 victims in the official death toll.

Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson says the remains of three additional victims were found Monday, but they have not yet been included in the medical examiner’s official numbers.

The slide struck a rural area northeast of Seattle on March 22.

Steve Harris, a division supervisor for the search effort, said search teams are learning more about the force of the March 22 slide, and that is helping them better locate victims in a debris field that is 70 feet (21 meters) deep in places.

“There’s a tremendous amount of force and energy behind this,” Harris said of the slide. He didn’t provide further details.

Harris said search dogs are the primary tool for finding remains in the small, mountainside community about 55 miles (88 kilometers) northeast of Seattle. He said searchers are finding human remains four to six times per day. Sometimes crews only find partial remains, which makes the identification process harder.

A makeshift road completed over the weekend links one side of the 300-acre (122-hectare) debris field to the other.

Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including household chemicals, septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers. When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed off by hazardous materials crews.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday asked President Barack Obama for a major disaster declaration in Snohomish County to make programs available to help individuals, households and businesses.

Last week, a federal emergency declaration was approved that provided a federal disaster team and specialized personnel to the slide area.

Estimated financial losses have reached $10 million, Inslee said, adding that about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7 million in structures and more than $3 million in their contents, Inslee’s letter said.

Members of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Sounders soccer team were scheduled to visit with community members Monday evening.

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Baumann reported from Seattle.

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