Searchers anticipate rain this weekend

  • Fri Apr 4th, 2014 10:00am
  • News

By Eric Stevick, Rikki King and Chuck Taylor Herald Writers

Update, 10 a.m., April 4: Officials dropped the list of missing to 15 on Friday morning.

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OSO — As two more names were added to the list of Oso mudslide victims Thursday, crews in the debris fields worked against the clock carving new drainage channels before rain returns to the Cascade foothills.

“We could get up to 3 inches over the weekend,” said Richard Burke, a Bellevue Fire Department lieutenant and spokesman for the search efforts. “We have to dig these ditches to get the water out.”

Early on, search efforts were hampered by heavy rain that created muddy swamps. In recent drier days, workers have been searching for the missing and creating ways to funnel water away.

Reinforcements in the form of an 80-member search team are expected to join the recovery effort today, along with 20 more dogs trained to find victims, officials said.

Officials Thursday revised the list of named people confirmed dead in the March 22 mudslide. New to the list are Jovon E. Mangual, 13, who was a member of the Spillers family that resided on Steelhead Drive, and Gloria J. Halstead, 67.

As of Thursday evening, the list of identified victims had 27 names.

The list of missing people was raised to 17 from 13 the day before. One person listed as missing is a John Doe said to be 50 to 60 years old. A county spokeswoman said it is a person who frequents the area but whose name and residence are unknown.

Fresh search-and-rescue crews were brought in from California on Thursday.

“We’re going to pull this community back together, and we’re going to be there for a while,” Burke said.

Snohomish County has been a resilient community, and that will continue to be the case, said John Pennington, the county director of emergency management.

“We will bounce back,” he said.

Reporters on Thursday were given a ground-level tour along the south and west periphery of the slide.

Amid the stumps and mammoth mounds of clay and dirt, the rubble revealed remnants of a lost neighborhood.

There were sections of roof and siding, a battered boat, a crushed car, a soccer ball, Christmas lights and a water-logged book by Stephen King. Atop a mangled Kubota tractor, someone had placed a muddied and tattered teddy bear.

“Even the geologists, they just shake their heads,” Burke said. “They have never seen anything like this.”

People who have been in the debris field searching for survivors describe a desolate scene unlike any other emergency they’ve faced.

Some have described an adrenaline rush to find people.

But when they find someone, it doesn’t feel like success. It is only sad.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Jack Coats, an assistant fire chief with Benton County Fire District 1 as he watched over a search team digging 10 feet deep on the southern fringe of the mudslide debris field.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials earlier this week told reporters that each area of the debris field must be searched four times. The first and second searches were completed for about 90 percent of the debris field by Wednesday evening.

Crews also are finding pictures, mementos, firearms and computers in the debris field, officials said. Those items are being decontaminated and organized so they can be returned to families. Those victim families also continue to join rescuers in the field.

Everyone, it seems, has tried to pitch in any way they can.

Tayler Drayton stood with a bucket of white paint along Highway 530 Thursday afternoon. She painted messages of encouragement — “We R Oso,” “Oso strong” and “530 pride” — on a school bus stop shelter.

The junior at Weston High School in Arlington wanted emergency crews to know their work is appreciated.

“Maybe after a long hard day, they can look at this and smile,” said her mother, Shannan McMahon. McMahon is a Darrington school bus driver who drove the high school baseball team to Tacoma shortly before the slide.

Tayler, 16, said she’s glad she has had the chance to grow up in Oso because it is a rural and friendly place.

“It’s pretty peaceful out here,” she said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are like a big family. We really are.”

Leaders of two major federal agencies are expected to see the community’s resilience for themselves over the weekend.

On Sunday, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate are scheduled to survey the damage and meet with the victims of the slide and families. They also will hear from federal, state and local officials and emergency workers involved in the ongoing response and recovery.

Their visit follows President Barack Obama’s decision Wednesday to approve a major disaster declaration to help in recovery efforts in areas affected by the mudslide and flooding.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.