Search effort expands in landslide area

Shelby Stafford, 14, and Hailey Hudson, 17, hold a banner they made at Darrington High School in the wake of Saturday's mudslide in Snohomish County, near Oso, Wash.

Shelby Stafford, 14, and Hailey Hudson, 17, hold a banner they made at Darrington High School in the wake of Saturday's mudslide in Snohomish County, near Oso, Wash. seattlepi.com photo by Joshua Trujillo

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ARLINGTON, Wash. — No survivors were found overnight and the death toll was expected to continue climbing today as more searchers converged for the fourth day of trying to find people caught up in a massive mudslide that buried a neighborhood in Oso on Saturday.

The death toll remained at 14 this morning and more fatalities are expected to be confirmed, said Travis Hots, chief of Arlington Rural fire district.

"Rescue or recovery: We are doing both," Hots said. ".... We are still in rescue mode in my mind and we are throwing everything we have at this and we are working very hard."

The effort likely will take weeks, but "we are going to do our very best to get everybody out of there," he added. State and federal experts trained in finding buried victims still alive were headed to the scene. So was a state mortuary assistance team, called in to help the Snohomish County Medical Examiner as more bodies are found.

"We are bringing all the resources we have to the horrific situation," Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said. "I am proud of my folks. We are working on behalf of the families that are missing loved ones."

No more volunteers are needed, and those who are in reserve have special skills, equipment or knowledge of the area, Hots said.

There was good news for Darrington, where Internet service had been restored and alternate access along the Mountain Loop Highway was expected by late today. Crews with graders and snowplows were clearing snow from the route, which links to Granite Falls, county public works director Steve Thomson said.

Officials are continuing to parse through 176 reports of missing people, and they expect to have reduced that list substantially by later today, said John Pennington, who heads Snohomish County's Department of Emergency Management.

He also said that some tentative work has begun into determining exactly why the hillside cut loose Saturday. Among other things, officials are looking for connection to a small earthquake in the area a few days before, he said.

The Oso mudslide may soon be known as one of the worst disasters ever in Washington state. It already is the most deadly in modern Snohomish County history.

President Barack Obama, speaking at a news conference in the Netherlands, asked Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to Oso.

Obama says he's spoken with Gov. Jay Inslee and signed an emergency declaration for the state. He says his administration is in ongoing contact with state officials.

"We hope for the best, but we recognize this is a tough situation," Obama said.

Inslee visited the scene again Monday, from the ground. Obama issued an emergency declaration enabling immediate federal assistance to assess and deal with the damage caused by the landslide. The declaration enables the Federal Emergency Management Agency to dispatch an incident team.

Also Monday, the state learned it will receive $1 million from the Federal Highway Administration to cover some of the costs associated with the clearing of Highway 530. Additional federal funds could be provided in the near future depending on the state and federal damage assessments.

The North Fork Stillaguamish River continues to carve a new channel through the debris field, but water still is pooling upstream and flooding homes.

The hillside north of the river broke free about 10:45 a.m. Saturday, burying the Steelhead Drive and E. Steelhead Drive neighborhood as well as a stretch of Highway 530.

The area hit by the Oso mudslide is known to be unstable. In 2006, the same hillside broke away and dammed the river just south of the Steelhead Drive neighborhood. Nobody was hurt that time.

Pennington on Tuesday was grilled by reporters about whether the community below the hill adequately understood the slide risk.

If there had been a way to predict an imminent natural disaster, people would have been warned out of harm's way, he said.

"This is just one that hit us," he said.

Officials asked that people still use the special number that has been set up — 425-388-5088 — if they are trying to find loved ones, who want to report someone missing, or ask about temporary shelter.

On Tuesday morning, 6-month-old Duke Suddarth remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. His mother, Amanda Skorjanc, 25, was in satisfactory condition.

Their family on Monday released a statement: "We wish to express our heartfelt support to our neighbors and friends who are suffering as a result of the recent landslide. We send our prayers and hope to the entire community that has been affected by this tragedy."

Meanwhile, three others injured in the slide remained in intensive care. Two men, 81 and 37, were reported in serious condition, but improving. A 37-year-old was reported in serious condition. Timothy G. Ward, 58, a fire commissioner in Oso and Boeing worker, also was listed in serious condition.

Co-workers said his wife, Brandy, was among the missing. Their home was swept away in the mudslide.

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