Searchers hope water removal will aid recovery

OSO — Recovery efforts at the Oso mudslide stayed focused Wednesday on an area of C-Post Road, which has been under water for more than two weeks.

Crews are building a temporary berm around the area so they can pump out the flood water and look for bodies.

Searchers have been over the area in boats, and dogs trained in finding human remains have indicated it’s a place that needs to be searched more closely, officials said.

As of late Wednesday, 36 people were confirmed dead from the slide, with 32 of those identified. Ten remain missing. Several funerals and memorials are planned this weekend, with more to come.

The Oso Community Chapel, at 22318 Highway 530, also plans a public dinner, prayer and memorial event at 5 p.m. April 26. Churches from around the region are paying for the event, which will include speakers and live music.

“Most of the memorial services that are taking place are quiet, are private, or are taking place out of the area, so this will be a time for healing,” the Rev. Gary Ray said.

The berm on the Darrington side of the slide is being built strictly for the recovery effort, said Owen Carter, the Snohomish County deputy public works director who was at the scene Wednesday. An amphibious exacavator also is widening river channels.

The berm will be about 12 feet wide and 2,000 feet long, said Mike Peele, flood team leader with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. About 600 feet had been built by Wednesday morning.

The terrain at the site contains a lot of unknowns, Peele said. Crews are working in water that is 10 feet deep in places.

Some of the rock and dirt from the berm likely will be used for Highway 530 reconstruction, Peele said. At least eight Army Corps staff are involved in the work, in addition to county crews and private contractors.

State Department of Transportation crews are helping with clearing debris from search areas, slide officials said Wednesday. WSDOT is working with the county on a plan to clear the highway “after all search efforts are complete.”

The earliest estimate for that happening so far is still measured in weeks. Transportation officials earlier this week said they need to meet with victim families and Native American tribes before establishing any kind of timeline.

The federal response also continues, with President Barack Obama expected to visit Oso on April 22.

Three disaster recovery centers have been established in Arlington, Oso and Darrington. As of the end of the day Tuesday, 335 people had signed up for federal assistance.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell on Wednesday said the Small Business Administration is focused on helping businesses that have been affected by the Highway 530 closure. Many will be eligible for disaster lending.

As media were being guided out of the slide scene on Wednesday, National Guard troops were working along the edges of the highway.

Suddenly, the work stopped. Machines froze.

Hats and helmets came off. Hands were folded and placed over hearts.

It was understood that someone had been found.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

A public memorial

Many of mudslide-victim funerals and services are private.

To create a public service where people can grieve and give thanks, the Oso Community Chapel, at 22318 Highway 530, plans a dinner, prayer and memorial event at 5 p.m. April 26. People are asked to bring side dishes and desserts. More info: 1-360-862-3550.

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