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Friday 22 August 2014

Mudslide missing list drops to 30

Published 30/03/2014 | 05:22

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Searchers pause for a moment of silence at the scene of the deadly Washington mudslide (AP)

The number of those believed missing following the deadly mudslide in Washington state has dropped to 30 after many people were found safe.

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Authorities previously set the number of missing people at 90, but said they expected that figure to drop dramatically as they worked to find people and cross-referenced a list that included partial reports and duplicates.

Meanwhile the confirmed death toll has risen by one, to 18. Finding and identifying all the victims could stretch on for a very long time and authorities have warned that not everyone may ultimately be accounted for after one of the deadliest landslides in US history.

The search by heavy equipment, dogs and bare hands for victims from the slide was going "all the way to the dirt" as crews looked for anything to provide answers for family and friends a week after a small mountainside community was destroyed.

All work on the debris field halted briefly for a moment of silence yesterday to honour those lost. State governor Jay Inslee had asked people across Washington to pause at 10.37am, the time the huge slide struck on March 22, destroying a neighbourhood in the community of Oso, north of Seattle.

Among the dozens of missing are a man in his early 20s, Adam Farnes, and his mother Julie. Mr Farnes' friend, Kellie Howe, described him as "a giant man with a giant laugh".

Rescuers have given a cursory look at the entire debris field, said Steve Harris, division supervisor for the eastern incident management team. They are now sifting through the rest of the fragments, looking for places where dogs should give extra attention. Only "a very small percentage" has received the more thorough examination, he said.

Dogs working four-hour shifts have been the most useful tool, Mr Harris said, but they were getting hypothermic in the rain and muck.

Emergency management leaders are making sure people have the right gear to stay safe in the rain and potentially hazardous materials and are keeping a close eye on the level of the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River to be sure nobody is trapped by rising water.

Crews are also collecting bags of personal belongings that will later be cleaned, sorted and hopefully returned to families.

The huge wall of earth that crashed into the collection of homes followed weeks of heavy rain.

Previous slides triggered by storms included one that killed 150 people in Virginia in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969 and another that killed 129 when rain from Tropical Storm Isabel loosened tons of mud that buried the Puerto Rican community of Mameyes in 1985.

A dam in San Francisquito Canyon, California, collapsed in 1928, causing an abutment to give way and killing 500 people, according to data from the US Geological Survey.

Press Association

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