Photos found at slide site; missing number drops
By JONATHAN J. COOPER and LISA BAUMANN, AP
March 30, 2014, 2:33 pm TWN
DARRINGTON, Wash. — Hundreds of family photographs and albums are among the personal belongings being recovered by crews searching for victims at a massive debris site left by the deadly mudslide in Washington state.
More than a week after the slide destroyed a mountainside community north of Seattle, crews using heavy machinery and their bare hands continued their work. Late Saturday, authorities said the number of people believed missing decreased substantially, from 90 to 30.
Officials previously said they expected that figure to go down as they worked to find people safe and cross-referenced a "fluid" list that likely included partial reports and duplicates.
As the number of people unaccounted for went down, the fatality list went up.
The official death toll of victims identified by the medical examiner on Saturday increased by one, to 18, said Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.
Authorities have said they have recovered more than two dozen bodies — including one on Saturday — but they aren't added to the official tally until a formal identification is made.
And, underscoring the difficulty of identifying those killed in one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, Biermann said crews are not always discovering complete remains.
"Rescuers are not always making full recoveries," he said. "Often, they are making partial recoveries."
Personal items, both large and small, are also discovered in wreckage.
"What we found out here is everything from pictures to gun safes," said Snohomish County Fire District 1 battalion chief Steve Mason.
The items that would later be cleaned, sorted and hopefully returned to families.
All work on the debris field halted briefly Saturday for a moment of silence to honor those lost. Gov. Jay Inslee had asked people across Washington to pause at 10:37 a.m., the time the huge slide struck on March 22.
"People all over stopped work — all searchers — in honor of that moment," Mason said.
An American flag had been run up a tree and then down to half-staff at the debris site, he said.