By Bill Sheets and Chuck Taylor Herald Writers
ARLINGTON — The number of people believed to be missing and possibly victims of the Oso mudslide is now 30.
For days, the figure was 90, but officials on Saturday said they had worked through that long list of names and were able to account for 60 people.
Jason Biermann, program manager for the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, delivered the news at a briefing here Saturday evening.
The count of confirmed dead in the March 22 cataclysm, meanwhile, rose by one — to 18. That person has been identified by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner, but the name has not been made public.
One more body was found in the debris field on Saturday, bringing the unofficial tally of known dead to 27.
For days, the calculus of the potential final death count seemed to yield a triple-digit number. But with the latest figures, Oso mudslide fatalities might be more in line with those of Mount St. Helens’ eruption in 1980. Fifty-seven people died in that disaster.
Search-and-recovery crews observed a moment of silence at 10:37 a.m., one week to the minute after the event.
A service road has been completed alongside Seattle City Light power lines, south of the mudslide, enabling searchers on one side of the debris easier access to the other. The road is not open to the public, Biermann said.
Due to conditions in the debris field, “rescuers are not always making full recoveries” of bodies. “They are making partial recoveries.” This adds to the difficulty of identifying the dead, he said.
Heavy rain has caused water to pool in parts of the search area, slowing crews down by forcing them to remove some of that water, Biermann said.
The river rose about a foot overnight from Friday to Saturday, increasing flooding on Highway 530.
River levels could rise more, but not enough to increase the flood threat on the North Fork Stillaguamish or other rivers, Johnny Burg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said by phone from Seattle.
A flood warning for the upper portion of the river will remain in effect indefinitely, until pooled river water behind the slide begins to draw down, he said. A flash flood watch will likewise remain in effect downstream from the slide until the situation changes.
An engineer has been posted to closely watch the stability of the hillside where the slide originated and is in constant communication with search teams.
Crews trudging through the muck could get a slight break from the rain in the next couple of days, Burg said. The forecast calls for more showers during the week, but no drenching storms are expected, he said.
“It’s going to be showery weather, it’s not going to be widespread rain,” Burg said.
A 75 percent chance of rain is expected on Sunday, decreasing to a 30 percent chance Sunday night and partial clearing on Monday.
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, Oso had received 14.86 inches of rain in March, Burg said. In 13 hours, from 1 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, more than eight-tenths of an inch fell.
It’s not known if the monthly total is a record in Oso, because the weather service maintains a gauge there but not an official weather station, Burg said.
By comparison, however, it’s more than twice as much as Paine Field in Everett received for the same period – 6.53 inches – and that figure was bumping up against the record for March of 6.55, Burg said.
Meanwhile, Snohomish County has established a Facebook page officials hope will be a clearinghouse for the many fundraising efforts. The page is at www.facebook.com/530sliderelief.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.