Rescue workers and volunteers involved in the search for
people missing after the landslide gather outside the fire
station in Darrington, Washington. REUTERS/Jason Redmond
The number of people missing after a landslide sent a
wall of mud crashing into dozens of rural Washington state
homes has dropped to 90, as officials reported finding more
bodies while acknowledging that some victims' remains may never
The known death toll remained at 24, including eight people
whose bodies had yet to be recovered after the disaster near
the tiny town of Oso, where a rain-soaked hillside collapsed
on Saturday and cascaded over a river and a road, engulfing
homes on the opposite bank.
Officials said more bodies had been found in the debris
field, but declined to say how many until the remains had
been removed and sent to a medical examiner's office.
Asked whether he expected the death toll to rise
significantly, Governor Jay Inslee told CNN: "Yes, I don't
think anyone can reach any other conclusion."
Snohomish County's emergency management director, John
Pennington, told reporters the tally of missing had dropped
dramatically to 90 from 176, but the fate of as many as 35
more people not officially listed as missing remained
Eight other people survived the slide but were injured,
including a 22-week-old baby rescued with his mother and
listed in critical condition although he was improving. The
mother and three other survivors also remained hospitalized.
The slide already ranks as one of the worst in the United
States. In 1969, 150 people were killed in landslides and
floods in Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
About 200 search personnel, many wearing rain gear and hard
hats, painstakingly combed through the disaster zone under
cloudy skies on Wednesday, taking advantage of a break from
Tuesday's rain showers to hasten their search for more
White markers were placed at the edge of the gouged slope to
help in detecting any further shifting of the hillside.
Snohomish County Battalion Fire Chief Steve Mason, directing
part of the operation, said teams were making slow but steady
progress in locating additional remains.
"There are finds going on continually. They are finding
people now," he told reporters visiting the search site.
"People are under logs, mixed in. It's a slow process."
But Jan McClelland, a volunteer firefighter from Darrington
who was among the first to arrive at the scene and has spent
long days digging through the thick gray muck, conceded it
was possible some bodies may end up forever entombed at the
"I'm fearful we won't find everyone," she said. "That's the
reality of it."
County officials also started to address criticism for
allowing new home construction in the area after a 2006
landslide in the same vicinity, which followed numerous
reports detailing the risks of slides dating back to the
A 1999 study by geologist Daniel Miller for the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers had warned of the potential for a "large
catastrophic failure" in the area, about 55 miles northeast
The county's emergency management director, John Pennington,
told reporters that local authorities had spent millions of
dollars on work to reduce landslide risks in the area after
the 2006 event.
He suggested that while officials and residents were aware of
vulnerability to unstable hill slopes, Saturday's tragedy
came out of the blue.