Searchers continue work despite rain

Searchers continue work despite rain

Credit: KING

Searchers continued to work in the Oso slide zone on March 28, 2014.

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by KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on March 28, 2014 at 6:06 PM

The latest:

  • Fire Chief Travis Hots said Friday morning the official death toll from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office remains at 17, but an update was expected Friday afternoon. Officials have reported nine more bodies have been recovered, but that's not part of the official death toll.
  • The Snohomish County Prosector's Office is determining whether the names of the 90 people reported missing can be released to the public.

Rain has been falling all day hampering search efforts in the area of the mudslide, making already wet search conditions worse for the 150 people our searching through the debris of the Oso slide.

Boats and search and rescue teams searched through mud and cold. It's not easy work but despite the weather it must be done.

"Our challenges today, obviously the weather -- it creates havoc on our roadway," said Tom Cooper, Deputy Chief of the Arlington Fire Department.

Tuesday through Thursday saw about one inch of rainfall. Forecasts showed that as much as an inch could to fall by Saturday morning.

Related: Rembering those lost in the Oso landslide

State Route 530 got drenched on Friday, as did the crews working nonstop to search.

“The rain and the wind and the weather is basically working against us,” said Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots. “Areas that have dried out are going to become even more saturated with water. Areas that already have water that we’ve been working in will see some additional water going to those areas. It just makes things slower and more complicated.”

"These crews are extremely wet," Cooper said. "It's cold up there and it's windy up there. There's no shelter."

There is nothing, it seems, but so much debris and rain.

"With this heavy rain coming, there's a lot of water just flowing down the hillside, right into where they're working," said Cooper. "So it makes the ground soggy, it makes the trees that they're climbing over slippery."

It makes having the right gear that much more important.

"We have tons of rain gear," Cooper said.

At the Darrington donation center, Kyla Johnston is helping to find a place for all of it. She knows how much it is needed.

"Saturday, Sunday and Monday I was down at the mudslide helping out with that," Johnston said.

It was bad then. The rain, she knows, is making it worse.

"None of the pictures on the news does it justice," she added. "It's contaminated down there, you step off your board and you're up to your waist it's just really sad."

Johnston's son is out there along with some 50 local volunteers. And today they worked in a sloppy muddy mess.

"You can only imagine," said Cooper. "The rain is not going to be our friend here but we'll get around it."

And that's the attitude. That no matter how bad the weather is out here they have a mission. Folks here, I'm told are used to the rain. And so they won't let it get in the way.

Not only does the rain make work for searchers more uncomfortable, it could also increase the level of danger for responders and volunteers.

“We’ve got new geologists that are arriving on the scene to offer additional opinions to make sure that there’s not the risk of additional slides that could occur up there,” said Hots. “At this time, we believe that everybody that is at the site there, from an additional slide potential, is safe and we want to make that sure we’re continuing to evaluate that.”

The Northwest River Forecast Center predicts that the Stillaguamish River will rise about two feet Saturday east of the debris dam, from its current level of 4.6 feet to approximately 6.6 feet, based on the expected precipitation. However, flood stage is 15 feet at the forecast site near Arlington.

State geologists monitoring the river say despite the increasing rain, the flooding behind the debris dam continues to drop as the north fork of the Stillaguamish continues to widen a new channel through the dam.

Forecasts show the rainfall will continue Saturday and Sunday, but at lower rates. The area around Oso should only see a couple showers Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing some relief for those searching.

Because of the possibility, however remote, of finding more survivors, the forensic digging team -- sometimes working in waist-deep mud -- must inspect each demolished home very carefully as they slowly bore into piles of wood and metal.

"The folks who are out there can't keep doing this forever," said Hots. "They're getting tired and need a break."

There is also concern that the sediment from the landslide which is flowing into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River could reset the map for what constitutes flood stage along the river.

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