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On Saturday, March 22, a mile-wide mudflow devastated Oso, Wash., 55 miles north of Seattle. The massive damage and mounting casualties have rocked the small community between Arlington and Darrington.

Landslide Death Toll Rises, Number Of Missing Drops

The death toll has risen to 18 following the devastating landslide near Oso, Washington. One bright spot: The number of people missing has fallen dramatically. It's now down to 30. 

Searchers are still pulling bodies from the debris, sometimes in pieces. Steve Schertzinger is a chaplain with the nearby Marysville Police Department. He describes what it was like to deliver bad news to a grieving family member.

"We sat down and I just said well, the waiting is over. And then I cried. I cried," Schertzinger said.

And Schertzinger says he expects the sorrow to hang over this community long after the search for victims is done. "This was not an event. This really is a whole season. So it won't even be over when the last body is found. It will continue on."

Heavy rain continues to hamper search teams. But crews have managed to finish a primitive road linking one side of the landslide site to the other. That will aide recovery crews but it's not open to the general public. 

Responders on the scene won’t use bulldozers or heavy equipment until they’re certain there are no survivors there. That means they’re using buckets, shovels and their bare hands. “I cannot possibly tell you how long this will last, when or if they will find more bodies. We hope that we do, but right now there’s no telling,” Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson said at the Friday night breifing.

Weary and emotionally-fatigued search crews are rotating in and out. Back in town, in the communities closest to the slide, trauma therapists are bringing service dogs around to help people cope with shock.

Slowly, some residents are starting to realize that loved ones who are missing may never be found.

Governor Inslee asked people around the state to pause for a moment of silence at 10:37 Saturday morning to remember the victims – the exact moment the slide hit last week.

Resources

  • Crisis Care Hotline: 800.584.3578. Available for all those in the community who have been affected by the landslide, staffed around the clock to provide counseling and crisis intervention.
  • Snohomish County information on volunteer and donation needs.
  • Updated information from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner about the mudslide victims.
  • To report or provide information on a missing person in the mudslide, contact the Snohomish County Sheriff's tip line: 425.388.3845.
  • Information for Darrington residents.
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.