ARLINGTON, Wash. -- Washington officials on Friday pleaded for patience from a heartbroken public as they continued work to identify the dead from the mudslide that officially killed 17 when it tore through the rural town of Oso.
At a morning news conference, Snohomish County Fire Chief Travis Hots told reporters that the confirmed death toll remained at 17 but repeated that it was expected to increase as the medical examiner’s office completed identifications later Friday. He had been expected to announce a higher toll and told reporters that he understood that the community is frustrated waiting for more information about the missing and dead.
“There is a process we have in place,” said Hots. “This is a sensitive situation for people that have lost their loved ones.”
Recovered remains are taken to the medical examiner’s office where the identification is made. Then it is announced and added to the official toll, he said.
At this point, officials said, there are 90 people missing. Hots said he is seeking permission from the Snohomish County prosecuting attorney’s office to release that list of names in the hopes of helping to find the missing.
Hots also asked the public to continue to be financially generous as the town tries to deal with Saturday’s slide.
“Some of these people have lost their homes, their cars, their families,” the chief said. “There’s funerals need to be paid for. I’m pleading with the community to help.”
The mudslide in rural Oso, about an hour north of Seattle, destroyed 49 homes and wiped out a portion of the highway that cuts through the town of about 200 residents.
Searchers and forensic teams, along with relatives of the missing and other volunteers, are spending the seventh straight day meticulously combing through a square-mile debris field of gray muck and downed trees, but hopes have dimmed that any survivors will be found.
There were dramatic rescues immediately after the slide, but searchers have not found a survivor since. Bodies have been recovered, most recently one of a baby on Thursday.
Rain was falling Friday, which searchers say makes their job tougher, muddying the scene and impeding heavy equipment. Searchers have had to pick their way through the mud, thick as wet cement, wearing waders or walking atop a makeshift network of trees and planks.
One survivor plucked from the wreckage within the first hour of the mudslide said she was not optimistic that others could have lasted many days in the harsh conditions.
“Every day that goes by, I’m less hopeful,” Robin Youngblood, 63, who was rescued immediately after the slide, said earlier this week.