Sunday, 13 April 2014

All 36 bodies recovered in Washington landslide have been identified

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office said Friday it has identified all 36 bodies recovered from the Oso landslide.

The 36th victim, identified Friday, was 14-year-old Denver Harris.

Seven people remain missing.

A flood warning remained in effect until Thursday April 17 for the north fork of the Stillaguamish River. Flooding continued to be an issue in the area due to slide debris that was partially blocking the river and pooling of water behind a dam of debris.

On Saturday it will be three weeks since the huge landslide traveled nearly a mile, crossing the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River to bury a residential area.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said more than 370 individuals or families have registered for assistance.

About 30 houses were destroyed in the slide and the debris blocked a long stretch of state highway 530 near Arlington. The mudslide struck on a Saturday morning March 22, a time when most people are at home. Of the 49 total structures in the neighborhood, authorities believe at least 25 were full-time residences.

Local seismic measurement stations clearly show that the event happened with no warning and so quickly that victims in its path had little chance to run for safety. Even if it had been slower, there would have been nowhere to run — the slide area was almost a mile across.

"We have whole houses here and then we have houses that look like they've been through a blender and dropped on the ground," said Snohomish County Fire District 1 Battalion Chief Steve Mason.

Much of Highway 530 was ripped off the ground.

“The power of the slide came down with so much energy and just wiped out the highway bed and there is nothing left,” said Steve Harris, division supervisor for the Department of Emergency Management.

The search for victims by heavy equipment, dogs and bare hands was going "all the way to the dirt" as crews continued to look for anything to provide answers for family and friends.

On April 3, President Barack Obama declared the site a major disaster area. The declaration made programs available to help affected individuals and businesses.

After touring the site of the mudslide, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said federal help will continue until "this is done."

Volunteers and over 70 members of the National Guard joined professional rescuers over the weeks to help recover the bodies of the dead and retrieve mementos for the living.

Recently, the search area was deemed contaminated due to sewage and chemicals and too dangerous for volunteers.

The Oso landslide is probably the second deadliest natural disaster in Washington’s history, after the 1910 Stevens Pass avalanche that killed 100 people.

A 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers state that the hillside had "the potential for a large catastrophic failure," according to an article in the Seattle Times.

When asked days after the slide whether he knew about the report, Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said he hadn't gotten a chance to look at the article.

"I want to know why this slide went," he said. "I'm not just an emergency director, I'm also a dad and I want to know why this happened. There have been warnings and advance notifications of the high risk of a landslide. We've done everything we can to mitigate that risk."

Initial death tolls were projected to be almost 200 people. But over a week into the search effort the number of missing and dead was greatly reduced.

Early into the recovery effort, Cory Kuntz and several volunteers worked with chainsaws to cut through the roof of his uncle's house. The home was swept about 150 yards from its previous location. Kuntz said his aunt, Linda McPherson, was killed. He and the others pulled files, his aunt's wallet and a box filled with pictures from the home.

"When you look at it, you just kind of go in shock, and you kind of go numb," he said.

Sunday 13 April 2014


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