ARLINGTON, Wash. -- As they began a second week searching for victims of a deadly mudslide, officials on Saturday night dramatically lowered their count of the missing from 90 to 30.
Eighteen people have been confirmed dead by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner, up from 17, a county emergency program manager, Jason Biermann, told reporters. Additional remains were found in the debris field Saturday, but had not been recovered or identified, he said.
[Updated, 7:00 p.m. March 29: The county said in a later statement that the remains were those of an additional victim and had been transported to the medical examiner’s office.]
Identifying victims has been made especially challenging because of the state of the remains found, the county acknowledged Saturday. “The slide hit with such force that often rescuers are not recovering whole victims,” Biermann said.
The drop in the number of missing brought some clarity to a question that has confounded the small cities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington this week. At one point, officials had collected more than 200 reports of people missing. They had emphasized that the number would likely diminish as duplicates were sorted out.
Officials were still holding out hope of finding victims alive on Saturday, calling their efforts both a rescue and recovery mission.
Workers Saturday were bagging belongings recovered from the tangle of brush and debris, shipping them out to be decontaminated, sorted, and returned to their owners if possible. They have found classical music records, gun safes, wallets, ATVs and snapshots.
Hundreds of photographs salvaged from the mud were assembled on a table, shielded from the rain by a white tent. More than an inch of rain had fallen in the area between 5 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service said, adding difficulty to the digging and sifting.