Fire chief holds out hope for mudslide rescues

ARLINGTON, Wash. -- Families have been assisting in the search for mudslide victims here, in at least one case recovering their loved one's body and returning to help others find relatives, according to Snohomish County Fire Chief Travis Hots.

“I haven’t lost hope and there’s a lot of people up there who haven’t,” he said.

The official death toll still stands at 16, with 90 missing.  But Hots said, “I fully expect that number to go up." He planned to announce a new tally of the dead Friday morning.

PHOTOS: Mudslide in Washington

For now, day six of the disaster, rescue workers are still operating as if some of the missing could be trapped alive in the swamp of gray mud that the slide left behind. They’re using heavy equipment sparingly to excavate the debris, mindful to avoid certain areas where people might still have survived — although officials acknowledge that the chance is remote.

Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said the search for survivors would continue for the foreseeable future.

“I’m not looking at deadlines,” he said.

“In the context of disasters, what we usually see is the response is quick, the recovery is much longer,” Pennington said, citing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which “the towers came down,” bringing an immediate end to the possibility of rescues, although the recovery dragged on.

“It’s fair to hold out hope longer in this case,” Pennington said.

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