DARRINGTON, Wash. – The number of those believed missing following a deadly Washington state landslide has plummeted to 30 after many people were found safe, authorities said late Saturday.
Officials previously set the number of missing people at 90, but said they expected that figure to drop dramatically as they worked to find people and cross-referenced a list that included partial reports and duplicates.
The confirmed death toll rose by one, to 18, Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, said at a Saturday evening briefing.
The search by heavy equipment, dogs and bare hands for victims from the slide was going “all the way to the dirt” as crews looked for anything to provide answers for family and friends a week after a small mountainside community was destroyed.
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, destroying a neighborhood in the community of Oso north of Seattle.
“People all over stopped work – all searchers – in honor of that moment, so people we are searching for know we are serious,” Snohomish County Fire District 1 battalion chief Steve Mason said.
An American flag had been run up a tree and then down to half-staff at the debris site, he said.
Dan Rankin, mayor of the nearby logging town of Darrington, said the community had been “changed forevermore.”
“It’s going to take a long time to heal, and the likelihood is we will probably never be whole,” he said.
Among the dozens of missing are a man in his early 20s, Adam Farnes, and his mother, Julie.
“He was a giant man with a giant laugh,” Kellie Howe said of Farnes. Howe became friends with him when he moved to the area from Alaska. She said Adam Farnes was the kind of guy who would come into your house and help you do the dishes.
Adam Farnes also played the banjo, drums and bass guitar, she said, and had worked as a telephone lineman and a 911 dispatcher.
Finding and identifying all the victims could stretch on for a very long time, and authorities have warned that not everyone may ultimately be accounted for after one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history.
Rescuers have given a cursory look at the entire debris field 55 miles northeast of Seattle, said Steve Harris, division supervisor for the eastern incident management team. They are now sifting through the rest of the fragments, looking for places where dogs should give extra attention. Only “a very small percentage” has received the more thorough examination, he said.
Dogs working four-hour shifts have been the most useful tool, Harris said, but they’re getting hypothermic in the rain and muck.
Commanders are making sure people have the right gear to stay safe in the rain and potentially hazardous materials, and they’re keeping a close eye on the level of the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River to be sure nobody is trapped by rising water.